Cooney ready to lead on the nation’s biggest stage

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Former Sanford guard Trevor Cooney put together an 18-point performance in the Orange's win over Western Michigan. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Former Sanford guard Trevor Cooney put together an 18-point performance in the Orange’s win over Western Michigan. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Andrew Koob (@AndrewKoob)

When Trevor Cooney goes, the Syracuse Orange follow.

He was a big reason why the Orange were able to jump out to 25 straight victories. He was a big reason why they lost six of the last eight games following that streak and heading into the NCAA Tournament.

He was also why Syracuse cruised to a 77-53 second round win over the Western Michigan Broncos in Buffalo.

“It felt good for the shots to go in,” Cooney said following the Orange’s win. “I was taking the same shots I was the last four games and they were able to fall for me today. Teammates found me in good spots so I just continue to shot it, it just went in for me today.”

The redshirt sophomore hit 4-of-8 from three-point range on his way to a team-high 18 points. During that eight-game stretch, Cooney never shot above 30 percent from beyond the arc and went a combined 10-of-51 (19.6 percent) from deep.

Because of that horrid stretch, Cooney admits that it took a toll on other parts of his game, including his intensity and leadership.

“I wasn’t so mad with my shooting at all, there were a lot of times I let my shooting affect other parts of my game or I wasn’t as energized as I was offensively or defensively,” Cooney said. “I wasn’t the leader that I wanted to be and I learned from that in the last couple games. I wasn’t coming in here today and saying ‘let’s make shots’. It’s just coming out here and being energized and get the other guys going. When you do stuff like that, good things happen.”

Even through his shooting slump, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim just wants his shooting guard to remain vigilant, especially when the opportunity for those types of shot arises.

“He’s just got to get his looks and take them,” Boeheim said. “I think he’s been aggressive. I think he stayed aggressive the whole time. That’s what you have to do. If you’re a shooter, you’ve got to be aggressive. I think his defense has stayed up the whole time. He’s played all the other parts of the game, which is what you have to do.”

When he hits the the deep ball like he did Thursday, Cooney is able to do a little more by playing smart team ball. After a few made shots and it looks like it’s going to be his day, defenses start to key. And when defenses start to look his way, it opens up lanes that helps him give his teammates better looks at the basket.

On top of that, when he starts making his shots, he becomes the leader that the Orange need him to be.

“When I make shots, it opens up a lot of things for other people. When I get going, I do believe we’re a better team and it opens up a lot more driving lanes for C.J. [Fair] and Tyler [Ennis] and Jerami [Grant],” he said.

“I made shots today, which was good. But I was into the game, I was highly energized and when you are like that, good things are going to happen, whether it’s a tipped steal or anything like that. It’s just about getting these guys going and we’re a really good team offensively when we get out and go like we did today.”

A native of Wilmington, Delaware and a Sanford School alum, Cooney had to learn to develop as he sat on the bench as a redshirt for his first season on campus. Last year, in his first year seeing the court, he was relied upon in the regular season but only played a combined 36 minutes in the postseason, half of which came in the Orange’s first round win over Montana.

Now, in his first meaningful action as an integral part of Syracuse’s playoff success, Cooney is simply buckling down and enjoying the ride.

“I’ve grown a lot,” he said. “Coming in and redshirting, going through this experience and just sitting down the whole entire year and just learning. Then the next year you get a couple minutes and a couple minutes and now you’re starting, you’re the three seed, the starting two guard. It goes by fast, but you just have to keep working and live in the moment. This stuff is fun, man, when you play like that.”

Cooney certainly had fun on Thursday as his team advanced to the third round. And, if he can keep up that presence that has been such a big part of Syracuse’s success, he’ll be able to push the Orange even farther.

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