You know, we may need to consider renaming the Paul Harris Memorial Boeheim Doghouse Award pretty soon. Tyler Roberson is making one hell of a late push.
Let’s step back to last season for a moment. The Syracuse Orange are coming off of a loss to Pitt. The junior forward just logged 25 minutes and came away with exactly zero points on his statline. After the game, Jim Boeheim uttered the words that launched a thousand thinkpieces:
"If I had anyone else he wouldn't play a minute. Not a minute. You watched the game. I'm not going to describe what he did out there to you."
Harsh. Cold. Mean. All of those things are true but when you play for Jim Boeheim, tough love (and tough disdain) are part of the program for certain players. If you’re a shooter, Boeheim generally lays off you. But if you’re a power forward expected to contribute on both sides of the ball, you better have your ish together because if not you’re entering a world of hurt.
It’s a word that Tyler has known well while at SU. Boeheim has been alluding to the fact that he remains unhappy with Robie’s play all season. But we didn’t quite realize just how unpleased he was until Saturday when Roberson, who had started every game for the Orange so far this season, was on the bench to begin the game.
In his stead was Tyus Battle, who had a breakout performance with 19 points over 36 minutes of play. Battle’s success justified the move but Boeheim was quick to point out that he didn’t even think the change needed justification to begin with.
"It wasn't hard, it wasn't even a decision. You can't play 34 minutes and score a point and keep your job. You just can't do that, unless you're doing something unbelievable, which wasn't the case. You have to make some changes sometimes. I didn't think it would work out this well. I didn't think Tyus was ready to have this kind of game but I'm glad he did.
"We need to be able to score. We scored 50-something points in a couple games. We can't win with that, so we decided to make the change."
Even so, Boeheim ultimately conceded that it wasn’t the lack of scoring that did Roberson in. It was the lack of rebounds.
"It's not the jump shot. It's the rebounding. You have to rebound and run the court. That's what we need from Tyler. If he does that, he'll play. I think he thinks he needs to make jump shots. That's not important. We have guys that can shoot. We need him to rebound and play defense and stop missing layups, stop missing shots around the basket. … We've got to be productive. You don't play because you're a senior. You play because you're productive."
In some areas, Tyler has done well. His shooting percent is slightly up, his free throw percentage is way up, and he’s blocking shots at a slight uptick. Elsewhere, however, he’s struggling mightily. His rebounding average is almost half of last year’s, assists are half as much, scoring is down, and he’s barely getting to the line. He’s also coming off of two games in which he played 34 minutes and contributed one point and eight rebounds.
And so, that’s why Boeheim followed through on the promise he made last year.
For his part, Roberson played 11 minutes versus North Florida, scoring a mere point while going 0-for-6 from the field. He also grabbed four rebounds and committed two fouls. After the game, he seemed dejected but just said what he needed to say to move forward.
"All I can do is just keep playing hard. And that's it."
Will Boeheim’s tough approach to motivate Roberson work? Remains to be seen. Tyler did establish himself as a double-double guy for stretches last season, including in the NCAA Tournament. And if that’s his ceiling, so be it. We don’t need him to throw down 20 points a night. But how many times can a guy take a public flogging and demotion like that and keep fighting? Guess we’ll find out.