Un­ex­pected strug­gles at Syra­cuse

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS -


Syra­cuse coach Jim Boe­heim isn’t used to this — nine games into the sea­son his Orange are barely above .500.

With no se­niors and five fresh­men on the ros­ter and ap­par­ent weak­nesses on the floor, the Orange (5-4) were no match for de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Vir­ginia to open the sea­son — a 48-34 loss, the fewest points for a Syra­cuse team in Boe­heim’s long ten­ure. Syra­cuse lost to Ok­la­homa State, Penn State and Iowa in a re­cent seven-day span, each by dou­ble dig­its.

That gave Boe­heim the worst start (4-4) since he took over the pro­gram in 1976. The team beat Ge­or­gia Tech on Satur­day.

“Ob­vi­ously, our young guys just aren’t ready yet for top-50 teams,” Boe­heim said. “The four teams that we lost to are just big­ger, stronger, and bet­ter than we are. It’s not like we’re play­ing teams that we should beat. The way we’re play­ing and the way those teams are con­structed with up­per-class guys, they’re just bet­ter than we are right now. It’s ob­vi­ous to me that we can play a lit­tle bet­ter.

“It’s tough to lose two or three games in a row any­time, but you just have to keep play­ing. I think we will im­prove.”

On the sea­son, the Orange’s zone de­fense has been de­cent de­spite the use of four fresh­men in al­most ev­ery game. Syra­cuse ranks 68th in scor­ing de­fense (63.3 points per game) and is hold­ing op­po­nents to 28.2% on 3-point­ers. Of­fen­sively, the Orange are av­er­ag­ing 72.1 points, 16.9 as­sists and 13.4 turnovers.

A glar­ing weak­ness has been on the glass — Syra­cuse has a re­bound­ing mar­gin of mi­nus-0.7 — and that’s lim­ited the pre­sea­son goal of scor­ing more in tran­si­tion. Start­ing cen­ter Bourama Sidibe, a 6-foot-10 ju­nior who’s been ham­pered by in­juries his en­tire ca­reer at Syra­cuse, is av­er­ag­ing 6.8 re­bounds, 245th na­tion­ally. That’s just ahead of 6-10 for­ward Marek Dolezaj (5.8), who at 185 pounds can’t cope too well in­side against play­ers like Penn State’s Mike Watkins, a dou­ble­dou­ble ma­chine at 6-9 and 257 pounds. Watkins had 15 points and 16 re­bounds in an 85-64 vic­tory over the Orange in the NIT Sea­son Tipoff in Brook­lyn as the Nit­tany Lions out­re­bounded Syra­cuse 57-28.

“We can’t re­bound the ball and get up the court,” Boe­heim said. “You can’t run with­out get­ting some re­bound­ing or get­ting some turnover sit­u­a­tions.”

Boe­heim counts on his sharp-shoot­ing son Buddy Boe­heim and swing­man Eli­jah Hughes, sec­ond last sea­son in scor­ing (13.7), to help on the perime­ter like last year. As a fresh­man last sea­son, Buddy started slowly, fin­ish­ing 13 non­con­fer­ence games 8 of 37 (21.6%) from 3. But once At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence play be­gan, he rose to the chal­lenge of the more dif­fi­cult com­pe­ti­tion, shoot­ing 33 of 81 (40.7% ) from be­hind the arc.

De­spite that per­for­mance and the con­fi­dence gained from be­ing tabbed a starter this year, Buddy has started slowly again. In the re­cent string of losses, he was just 5 of 20 on 3s de­spite some good looks. Hughes ranks third in the ACC in scor­ing (19.6) and is shoot­ing 43.8% from long range af­ter a scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mance in the 97-63 rout at Ge­or­gia Tech — six 3s and a ca­reer-high 33 points.

“You have to play with con­fi­dence, whether you’re a fresh­man, sopho­more, ju­nior or se­nior or even a grad stu­dent,” said fresh­man Joe Gi­rard III, who has started seven straight games at point guard in place of in­jured sopho­more Jalen Carey. “That’s the name of the game. Mind­set is the name of the game in bas­ket­ball. You can’t go in too high or too low.”

Buddy also ex­celled against Ge­or­gia Tech, hit­ting six 3s and scor­ing a ca­reer-high 26 points.

Gi­rard, who scored 24 points against Seat­tle in his de­but as the starter, had 12 points and six as­sists with one turnover, one block and two steals against Buck­nell, his best all-around game so far. But Gi­rard, the all-time lead­ing high school scorer in New York state history, has strug­gled shoot­ing (14 of 45 on 3s). He’s an ace at the line, con­vert­ing 23 of 24 free throws.

Syra­cuse trav­els to Ge­orge­town (6-3) on Satur­day. The win over Ge­or­gia Tech of­fers a promis­ing sign, even if the Yel­low Jack­ets were with­out star point guard Jose Al­varado. It came against a Power Five team; the Orange de­fense lim­ited the ACC’s lead­ing scorer, Michael Devoe (23.8), to 2-of-12 shoot­ing.


Coach Jim Boe­heim and Syra­cuse are en­dur­ing a 5-4 start to the sea­son.

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