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Syracuse 57, Lehigh 47: Orange Struggle Offensively but Fend Off Mountain Hawks

The Orange got by, but it wasn't pretty.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse's relatively poor shooting night didn't prove especially costly in its 57-47 win over Lehigh at the Carrier Dome on Friday. After falling behind 9-8 in the first half, the Orange took a 10-9 lead at the 12:47 mark and never relinquished it.

But SU's shortcomings shooting the ball, particularly from 3, were noteworthy nonetheless. Of Syracuse's 52 field goal attempts, 34 of them were from beyond the arc. The Orange made only 11 of those shots. Couple that with 17 turnovers and you get Friday night's result: a poor offensive showing in which Syracuse failed to put away the Mountain Hawks until the game's final minutes.

Of course, it wasn't all bad. SU's defense was exceptional. In limited minutes, Kaleb Joseph played about as well as he did at any point last season. And when Syracuse turned to small-ball lineups for spurts, the results were positive.

But, more than anything, Friday night served as a reminder of the risk SU will run with its new 3-point-oriented offense. When the Orange's shots aren't falling, they're going to struggle to score many points, something that will only be magnified if they're as careless with the basketball as they were on Friday.

Leading 34-12 at halftime, Syracuse opened the second half by taking six 3s in seven minutes. Head coach Jim Boeheim said he felt each of those looks was a good one, but not one of them went in.

"When that happens," he said, "if they score two or three times even, the lead is going to be down ... in a hurry."

And that's just what happened; the Orange's lead was trimmed to only six points. And during that span, Michael Gbinije and Malachi Richardson combined to commit three of Syracuse's eight second half turnovers. Richardson had five turnovers on the night, while Gbinije and Trevor Cooney had four apiece.

"If we just don't turn the ball over, (Lehigh) is going to have trouble scoring more than 35 points," Boeheim said.

Indeed, Lehigh scored only 34 points out of its halfcourt offense. Even in the regular season opener, Syracuse's 2-3 zone looked in midseason from; the Orange forced 15 turnovers. Dajuan Coleman was plagued by foul trouble, but it didn't matter; Chinonso Obokoh had four blocks in his 15 minutes at center. And when SU went small and used freshman Tyler Lydon at center, the zone didn't skip a beat.

Lydon registered three steals and had two blocks of his own. He also altered a number of shots while at center, erasing any doubts -- at least for a night -- that SU's defense will suffer greatly when it doesn't have a true center patrolling the paint.

"I definitely (feel comfortable playing center)," Lydon said. "I've been playing it a lot in practice, just trying to go over it as much as I can."

Typically when Lydon was at center, the 6-foot-8 Tyler Roberson was at power forward. But after Obokoh committed his second foul with 4:15 remaining in the first half, Boeheim opted to go super-small. Syracuse rolled out a lineup featuring five shooters -- Franklin Howard, Cooney, Gbinije, Richardson and Lydon. Boeheim then replaced Howard with Joseph -- another 3-point threat -- at the 1:53 mark.

With those lineups, Syracuse finished the half on a 12-3 run. SU forced two turnovers during that stretch and held Lehigh to 0-for-4 shooting, with the Mountain Hawks' only points coming on free throws. Offensively, the small lineup generated extreme floor spacing, and the Orange got five good looks at 3s because of it.

The last of those 3s came off the fingertips of Joseph, who drained the shot with only five seconds left in the half. It was one of two made 3-pointers on the night for Joseph, who finished 2-of-3 from the field and didn't turn the ball over. He looked and played as if he were very comfortable, but he only saw 14 minutes of action. Boeheim, however, said he expects Joseph to typically play more than that this season.

"It's difficult because we really get small when he's in there with (Cooney and Gbinije)," he said. "They're going to be in the game. The problem is when (Richardson) is our best player in the game, you want to keep him in the game. And now you're really going to go small, which, you can do it a little bit, but it's not ideal."

But in his limited minutes, Joseph, you could argue, was more effective than both Cooney and Gbinije. The two fifth-year seniors teamed up to go just 5-for-18 from 3, highlighting the night's common theme.

The good news, though, is that it wasn't as if the Orange weren't getting good looks. They were; the shots just weren't falling. Afterward, Boeheim said that if Syracuse gets that many good looks each game, it can make "15 or 16 of them." He's probably right, but that wasn't the case on Friday.

"It was just one of those nights," Gbinije said. "We're going to shoot the ball better. We just got to continue to take the shots and be confident with them."