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Jim Boeheim: ‘We’ve got a lot of work to do. Tonight was a baby step.’

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It was a step in the right direction, nonetheless.

NCAA Basketball: Cornell at Syracuse
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim watches the second half of Tuesday’s game against Cornell.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

A baby step? Maybe. But it was a baby step in the right direction.

After struggling in the first 10 minutes, the Syracuse Orange got back on track and back in the win column, 80-56, over the Cornell Big Red on Tuesday night.

It wasn’t the prettiest of games, but it turned out to be a 24-point victory that the Orange so desperately needed.

“I thought we were more active tonight on defense,” head coach Jim Boeheim said afterwards. “If you’re not active in a zone, you’re going to get picked apart, and that’s what’s happened to us that last couple games.”

Syracuse came into Tuesday’s game with a sour taste in its mouth. SU suffered a record-setting loss to St. John’s last week, 93-60. It was the worst home loss under Jim Boeheim in program history.

The Syracuse defense forced 15 Cornell turnovers and held the Big Red to 25 percent shooting from behind-the-arc. The zone was much better, but did struggle within the first 10-or-so minutes of the game.

Cornell, surprisingly, only shot four free throws in the game. The Orange played honest defense inside, and held the Big Red to only six offensive rebounds. SU won the battle of the boards 41-32.

Andrew White bounced back after scoring just two points against St. John’s with a 12-point performance. He did struggle from the floor, going 3-of-10 (0-for-5 from 3), but Boeheim said it’s nothing to worry about.

“You know, Andrew got some good looks but didn’t make them. But I thought we overcame missing those shots and made some good plays and got the lead. We got four good days of practice ahead of us. I thought we had really good practices after we got back. We need the next four days of practice.”

Tyus Battle found his way back into the starting lineup. It had nothing to do with John Gillon’s play, it’s just Battle’s spot, Boeheim said. If either of the two point guards had stepped up and ran with the opportunity, things may have been different. But they didn’t, hence Battle’s return.

NCAA Basketball: Cornell at Syracuse
Syracuse guard Tyus Battle drives to the basket during Tuesday’s matchup against Cornell.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

He scored 16 points tonight for the Orange, including four 3-pointers.

“[Tyus] was only out (of the starting lineup) because of health,” Boeheim reiterated. “The little guards, neither one are playing that good.”

Senior Tyler Roberson saw extended, meaningful minutes tonight while Dajuan Coleman saw more time on the bench than usual.

Roberson took advantage of his playing time in the first half, but disappeared in the second.

“I thought Tyler Roberson gave us a really good first half. Really good, then nothing. But he gave us a really good half,” Boeheim said.

He joked that he sounds like a broken record when referring to Roberson’s game, but it’s true. The inconsistency from the senior forward is inexcusable, and quite frankly cannot be explained. It’s been four years and Roberson hasn’t developed a mid-range jumper, still struggles from time to time on defense and looks disinterested most of the time.

As for if Jim Boeheim said anything to his team after the 33-point loss to St. John’s... well, he didn’t say anything to them. They know they’re not very good.

“They know where they’re at. They know right where they’re at. What would I say to them? You know, You’re not very good? You’re not playing very good?’ They know that. I think there’s enough people telling them that. My job is to get them better. It doesn’t do any good to speculate on what they’re doing and what they’re not doing.”

Freshman Taurean Thompson had 18 points, but still struggles on the defensive end of the floor.

“Everything,” Boeheim said in regards to what Thompson has trouble with defensively. “He’s lost. He’s lost out there. He tries to get in the way sometimes and sometimes he tries to get out of the way. He’s long. Once in a while he might by accident do something there. He’s a very, very good offensive player. He’s gotta get better defensively, rebound-wise. He’s our best low post player and it’s not even close.”

“He’s a gifted offensive player,” Boeheim said of Thompson.

Boeheim dodged a question when asking where his team is right now, which brings up the question. Where is Syracuse basketball right now? What’s SU’s identity? Will it be a long ACC schedule?

It all begins on Sunday when the Orange travels to Boston College for the ACC opener.

Before the season, you could basically chalk this up as a win. Now, every game matters and no game should be taken lightly.

A baby step forward is better than backwards. But at some point, this team will need to take long strides forward.