DURHAM, N.C. -- Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney knows bad stretches.
The Orange's 0-4 start in ACC play just meant the timing was off. Usually, Cooney reasoned, their trouble came toward the end of the season when fatigue set in. This time, it was at the beginning.
But his message to his teammates stayed the same: The season is not over.
Monday night’s 64-62 win at Duke gave the Orange a modest three-game winning streak and reinforced Cooney’s words.
Syracuse now has the confidence that it just might have hit a turning point of the season.
“I’ve been a part of some very good teams here, and it seems like we’ve always had a bad stretch,” Cooney said. “This was the first time it has come at the beginning of the year.”
In Cooney’s freshman year, the Orange lost five of eight to close the regular season, yet still made the Final Four. His sophomore year, they started the season 25-0 then lost four of their final six.
The thing is, he has been there before. So has fellow senior guard Michael Gbinije.
The Orange lean heavily on their experienced backcourt duo. The two combined to miss just three minutes against Duke. In conference play, Gbinije is averaging 38.7 minutes, and Cooney 37.0 minutes.
Their leadership is imperative on a team that essentially narrowed its rotation to just seven players -- three of whom are freshmen.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was especially pleased with Gbinije, who transferred from Duke after the 2011-12 season.
“He’s going 40 minutes,” Boeheim said. “Kids can do that these days with the timeouts, but the point guard playing 40 minutes and you have to drive is different than if you are playing forward or center, because you don’t get any rest.”
The Orange don’t, either. They will complete a three-game road stretch Saturday at Virginia.
Gbinije said Syracuse will go into that game with a lot more confidence coming off wins at Wake Forest and Duke.
“We’ve built a lot of momentum on this away trip, and we just have to keep building on it,” Gbinije said.
Cooney still has a message to get out to the rest of the team. It’s still the same after beating Duke as it was during the Orange's 0-4 start.
“You can’t settle, like, 'Great, we beat Duke, our season’s over,'" Cooney said. “No, we have to continue to improve on it and get better. This, for us, is just a confidence boost for us to come into a place like Cameron and beat a team like Duke that is highly ranked and a very good team.”
It’s almost as if Syracuse has embarked on a new season. The flashes were there early when the Orange beat Connecticut -- when the Huskies were ranked -- and Texas A&M, which has climbed to No. 10.
But then came the bumps when Boeheim began serving his nine-game suspension, during which he could not have any contact with the coaches or players. Three of the Orange’s ACC losses came without Boeheim, and five of their seven losses overall came during that span.
He is back now in a major way.
Boeheim’s presence on the bench has been a boost. The players are hesitant to speak about his impact because of their respect for assistant coach Mike Hopkins, who served as head coach in Boeheim’s absence. But Boeheim brought a calming effect to the huddle.
When the Orange watched their eight-point lead cut to three with two minutes left, Boeheim’s reassurance helped pull them through.
“We were losing a lot of close games, I think, now we’re just pulling them out,” forward Tyler Roberson said. “Coach Boeheim and Coach Hop are both good coaches, but now we’re winning those close games at the end instead of losing by two or three points.”
Roberson’s development has taken off with Boeheim back on the bench. The 6-foot-8 junior destroyed Duke with 20 rebounds, 12 of which came on the offensive boards. Roberson’s impact was unsteady during the nine games Boeheim was out. He scored double digits just three times and grabbed more than 10 rebounds twice.
Roberson’s 14 points against Duke marked the fourth straight game he has scored in double figures; he has also posted double-doubles in scoring and rebounding each of the past three games.
Boeheim said Syracuse without Roberson would endure the same struggles Duke is facing now with power forward Amile Jefferson sidelined by a foot injury.
“When you look at Duke without Jefferson, they need that one guy -- it would be the same as if we lost Roberson,” Boeheim said. “It would be impossible to get to where you want to go. He means all the difference in the world.”
And now Syracuse has every reason in the world to believe the postseason is well within reach.