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St. John's 84, Syracuse 72: Four Takeaways from Orange's Surprising Loss

Here are four things we learned in SU's loss to the Red Storm.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — Syracuse suffered a surprising 84-72 loss to St. John's on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, the Orange's third loss in four games. Here are four things we learned:

1. It's possible for the Orange to get beat at their own game

Entering Sunday, it wasn't a secret that arguably Syracuse's biggest strength has been its ability to stroke from 3. The Orange love the 3; they take 25.3 attempts per game. Before Sunday, they were making an impressive 38.8% of those shots.

But SU has also been pretty solid defending the 3. Entering Sunday, the Orange were holding teams to just a 30.3% clip from beyond the arc.

On Sunday, though, the roles were reversed. Not only did Syracuse struggle to hit 3s, making just five of its 26 tries, but it had significant trouble defending the 3.

Against St. John's double-high set offense, SU would often pay too much attention to the high post, which led to St. John's getting several open 3s after one or two swing passes. The Johnnies finished 12-of-24 from beyond the arc, making them far more successful from 3 than any previous Syracuse opponent has been this season.

It's not likely to happen very often, but it's proof that the Orange are at least somewhat vulnerable themselves of getting torched from deep.

2. Free throws continue to be an issue

Syracuse lost by 12 points on Sunday. It also missed 12 free throws. The Orange were in the double bonus midway through the second half, and they often attacked the basket and got to the free throw line. In total, they attempted 31 free throws — 21 of which came in the second half.

"We have to shoot better from the foul line, absolutely," Trevor Cooney said. "We shoot better from the foul line and we're right in the game at the end. It comes down to a basket and I like our chances there."

As a team, Syracuse is now shooting just 69.4% from the charity stripe this season, according to SU is likely to be in a number of close games this season, and it won't be able to afford free throw-shooting performances like that one very often.

3. Syracuse is still less than great in transition

So far this season, Syracuse has had a pretty average transition offense. According to Hoop-Math, the Orange were effectively shooting 56.7% in transition entering Sunday, putting them right in the middle of the pack among Division I teams.

In St. John's, the Orange faced one of their toughest transition opponents yet. Entering Sunday, opposing teams were effectively shooting just 46.3% in transition against St. John's. According to Hoop-Math, that put the Red Storm at 47th in the country in transition defense.

In that stiff test, the results weren't pretty for SU. Despite forcing 15 turnovers, the Orange scored just two points in transition.

"I thought we did a good job of finding them in transition, not letting them get going," St. John's head coach Chris Mullin said.

With Syracuse using a full-court press late in the second half, it had opportunities at high-percentage layups in transition that would have cut deeper into the Red Storm's lead. But the Orange missed several of those layups, and their chances at making a comeback faded away.

4. Gbinije can't do it alone

Michael Gbinije was exceptional for much of Sunday, particularly in the first half, when he went 5-of-7 from the field and scored 14 points. In the second half, though, he attempted only four shots from the field and scored just seven points. In the game's final 12 minutes and 16 seconds, he didn't register a single made field goal.

Afterward, Gbinije said St. John's was zoning in on him.

"They doubled at times," he said. "They did a good job of limiting open opportunities for me."

When the Johnnies doubled Gbinije, it typically helped free up Syracuse's other 3-point threats, specifically Cooney and Malachi Richardson. But those two went a combined 1-of-19 from 3, and SU players other than Gbinije shot just 30.4% on the day.

Gbinije has been fantastic all season, and because of that, more teams are likely to focus much of their attention on him. When that happens, it'll be crucial that players like Cooney and Richardson step up. Because as Sunday proved, Gbinije can't do it by himself.