Syracuse's 66-58 overtime loss to Wisconsin here at the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night was defined by a number of things, with SU's rebounding deficiencies and missed free throws near the top of the list. The Badgers more than doubled the Orange in rebounds, grabbing 51 to SU's 25, and Syracuse missed nine of 20 attempts from the charity stripe.
But it was No. 14 Syracuse's 7-for-24 performance from 3 that ultimately cost it an eighth consecutive victory to begin the 2015-16 season. On the heels of a Battle 4 Atlantis tournament that saw the Orange shoot 46.7% from 3, they couldn't get much to fall Wednesday — something that's likely to happen on occasion with a team that consistently hoists this many 3s.
Of course, the rebounding and free throw problems were real and contributed to Syracuse's loss. But tonight wasn't the first time Syracuse struggled in those departments. The Orange entered the game ranked 308th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, according to kenpom.com. They've also had multiple poor showings from the free throw line, including two such nights during the Battle 4 Atlantis. SU made just 50% of its free throws against Charlotte and missed 15 of them against Connecticut.
Until proven otherwise, neither rebounding nor free throw shooting can be considered one of Syracuse's strengths.
What is a strength for the Orange, however, is their ability to make 3s. Averaging more than 24 attempts from 3 per game, SU entered having made 41.1% of those shots, the 30th-best clip nationally. It hadn't shot worse than 32.4% from 3 in a single game before Wednesday.
"I didn't envision this happening," Michael Gbinije said of the team's poor shooting night. "But it's the nature of the game."
Gbinije, though, wasn't the problem. He went an efficient 4-for-8 from 3 and hit his final 3 with three minutes remaining in regulation, stretching the Orange's lead to 52-48.
His teammates, on the other hand, went a combined 3-for-16 from deep, an abysmal 18.8%. Malachi Richardson finished 1-for-7 from 3, while Tyler Lydon went 0-for-3. And it wasn't as though Syracuse couldn't get open shots. It did; those shots just weren't falling.
This was perfectly encapsulated around the 13-minute mark in the second half, with the score knotted at 32. SU point guard Kaleb Joseph cut through the lane, forcing the Wisconsin defense to collapse. Lydon, suddenly unaccounted for, drifted out to the right corner, where Joseph found him for an open 3. It was a shot that Lydon seemingly could have made with his eyes closed during the Battle 4 Atlantis.
So as Lydon rose, so did the rest of the Carrier Dome. But his shot clanked off the rim, and the crowd's excitement turned into the same exasperation that was present throughout the night.
Still, the Orange somehow managed to do enough to have a chance to win. Behind three 3-pointers — two off the fingertips of Trevor Cooney and another via Gbinije — in a roughly 90-second span beginning around the 12-minute mark, the team that was so dominant in the Bahamas reappeared. Thanks to its reemergence, Syracuse had grabbed a 41-35 lead and seemed to have captured the game's momentum.
Unfortunately for SU, that version of the Orange didn't stick around for long. Syracuse would take nine more 3s in regulation and overtime and make just two of them, one of which came when Wisconsin already had the game in hand.
Said Cooney: "You're going to have nights where the ball doesn't go in, and you're going to have to find different ways to win."
But so far, Syracuse's only proven way to win is by taking and making 3s. That might work most of the time, but it didn't Wednesday.