One can only imagine the grind of going 44 minutes against the Carleton Ravens stays with Tyler Ennis in spirit until some time in the new year, when Syracuse's newest Canadian bringing the ball up the floor against Duke or North Carolina.
Cameron Indoor Stadium bears little resemblance to Ottawa's Canadian Tire Centre, where the ballyhooed Brampton, Ont., native and his Syracuse Orange outlasted the Carleton Ravens 69-65 in overtime in Friday perhaps the most highly anticipated August exhibition game between a NCAA and Canadian university powerhouse yet played. The 'Cuse colours heavily dotting the the crowd of 6,004 — "got to get the students some red shirts, there was a lot of orange," Ravens acting coach Rob Smart quipped — created more a neutral-site atmopshere. Nevertheless, on the eve of his 19th birthday, Ennis exuded the quiet certitude Jim Boeheim is hoping the freshman point guard will deliver in due time. Ennis' line on the night, 15 points on 4-of-17 shooting with five steals and four assists against what Boeheim called "as tough a team defensively as anybody," didn't do him justice.
"A game like this teaches me a lot," said Ennis, who had to put up few expiring-clock heaves as the Orange struggled to get open looks vs. Carleton's well-drilled defence. "It's easy to go through plays and go through sets when we're up by 40 [as Syracuse was in the first two games of its Canadian tour]. But in a game when a team plays good defence and the game's really tight, it's definitely going to help in the future. It just felt like a real game.
"Just coming out and playing them tough helps. We're a young team and we have a lot to learn."
The reality of August CIS-NCAA exhibition games is that the name-brand powerhouse coming north often has a young roster carrying the aura of the past season's accomplishments. The Kansas Jayhawks had bid adieu of their national championship team, including Mario Chalmers, when they eked by Carleton 84-83 on Labour Day weekend in 2008. The Wisconsin Badgers, who Carleton ran by 95-82 on Wednesday, have lost three starters from the squad that coach Bo Ryan guided to his 15th consecutive trip to the NCAAs last March.
Syracuse, of course, lost guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche and three-point threat James Southerland from its 2013 Final Four team. The pro-Carleton contingent likely didn't care much about that, or an injury to veteran C.J. Fair, when the Ravens opened a 15-point lead fewer than five minutes into the second half on Friday.
Ennis drew an ooh with a spinning drive for an uncontested scoop shot that left a defender sprawled out on the floor. Moments later, a drive inside and wraparound pass to Baye Mousse Keita produced an easy layup. Steadily and surely, Syracuse started to look like Syracuse, although it didn't take its first lead until 3:54 remained. Carleton also got a chance to hold for a game-winning shot with 33.4 seconds left, but Thomas Scrubb was a touch long on a contested jumper in the paint.
"He played tough," Smart said of Ennis. "Boy, he got in the lane a lot and caused some problems for us."
'Tremendous amount of experience'
The night also illustrated how far Ennis and Syracuse are from being a trendy March Madness pick. Ennis carried a heavy scoring load earlier this summer for Canada at the FIBA under-19 world championship, which phenom Andrew Wiggins sat out in order to get settled at Kansas. Friday was a microcosm of the U19, as Ennis often had to be Syracuse's late-in-the-shot-clock last-gasp hope.
"Tyler's getting a tremendous amount of experience," said Boeheim, who's had a long line of point guards who started as freshmen, from Philadelphia 76ers lottery pick Carter-Williams, through Gerry McNamara on the '03 championship team all the way back to Sherman Douglas and Pearl Washington.
"He's going to make a lot of plays for us this year ... Fortunately, we don't go to overtime too often so I don't think he'll be playing 44 too often. But I think you'll see a lot of 36s [in the minutes column]."
"We don't want him to have to take 17 shots like he did tonight, but he almost had to," Boeheim added. "Some of the misses he had we tipped it in. I think that happened four times. I can live with it.
"Last year, Michael and Brandon made all the plays for us and James hit all the threes. That's a lot of offence."
Obviously, an exhibition game in August is a far cry from a big ACC showdown in February. Ennis' quick first step was evident Friday. He had several tough misses on drives inside — ones a more mature guard unfazed by contact puts away — and didn't seem to pose a perimeter threat. That will have to change if he's to log 35-minute nights. Refreshingly, he acknowledged he's got a lot of work ahead without being prompted.
"A lot of teams are going to pressure me full court, so it's just about getting quicker," he said. "Getting in the weight room, getting stronger through the season."
And who knows where that might lead.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.