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Syracuse seeks to keep win streak going at Pittsburgh

The offense exploded out of its shell against Boston College, now the Orange face two must-win road contests starting with a lowly Pittsburgh squad that scared SU at home last week.

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse’s home-court advantage does not stand as a sure bet for a win this season. Two teams have entered the Carrier Dome and won, more have pressured the Orange with close finishes and scary runs. On Wednesday, Tyus Battle and company finally unloaded on a visiting squad and sent a revamped Boston College Eagles team packing with an 81-63 win.

The performance didn’t begin smoothly, the Eagles hit five straight shots to open the game and led SU by double-digits. From there it felt like the Orange hit every shot it took. Over 20 minutes into the game, all six rotation players minus Matthew Moyer were above 50 percent shooting. Blasphemy for this season.

Now Syracuse faces two significant challenges on the road, because every road game seems to pose a challenge for SU. The Panthers sit at 0-8 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, though one of their most competitive efforts was hanging with the Orange in the Dome. Pitt sat within five at halftime, held the Orange to 43 percent shooting and efficiently knocked down free throws and three-pointers. Syracuse clamped down defensively and won by 14.

Here’s what to watch for as these teams meet again.

Parker Stewart

Every week there’s one guy. For Boston College there were two, Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, standing beyond the arc and unloading three-pointers against the space the 2-3 zone permits on the perimeter. Jim Boeheim has said it all season: expect teams to shoot on Syracuse.

The biggest reason Pittsburgh stuck with the Orange for a significant portion of their Jan. 16 meeting was Stewart raining down shots on SU’s defense.

Stewart took 13 of his 14 field goal attempts beyond the arc and drilled seven. After the game he nonchalantly mentioned being able to spot up, dribble and hit from deep with comfort. Outside of Stewart, Pittsburgh only hit six shots, so he’ll be the point of emphasis along the perimeter to keep players like Marek Dolezaj out of the paint and hanging toward him on the wing.

Oshae Brissett

Speaking of three-point shooting, Brissett’s erratic season outside consolidated into his most smooth stroke of the season against BC. Everyone was hitting from Battle to Paschal Chukwu, but Brissett set the offensive tone with two long shots by the Eagles bench in the first half.

Brissett’s 32 percent three-point mark now sits well above an early-season efficiency disaster. His percentage once stood below 20.

While his strength is clearly finding contact in the lane and attempting six free throws per game, hitting threes will not only open up a more efficient game for him, but the whole entire offense will be more spread out. More on that in a second.


The sight of Battle taking the ball from Brissett in a give-and-go, working around his teammate’s body as Dolezaj cut from the left corner and received Battle’s pass into post position was awe-inspiring.

This offense simply hasn’t moved, gotten post touches, ran effective pick-and-rolls or done much of substance beyond hand the ball to Battle and hope for the best this year. That changed against the Eagles.

Not only does 7-of-16 shooting from three draw out the defense from stacking the upper and lower paint against Battle, quality post touches get the whole entire offense moving.

Before Dolezaj hit some tough shots through contact inside, finishing the game 100 percent from the field, he was simply moving around the paint with the ball. Even though Dolezaj and Chukwu can’t shoot, simply getting them the ball in the post moves the defense and spurs movement.

The Orange did a great job working those two around the high and low post and the results showed at 60 percent shooting, though it’ll be tough to repeat against physical front lines, Boeheim said. BC was tiny in the front court.

Matthew Moyer/Bourama Sidibe

Moyer suffered a left ankle sprain minutes into the BC game and did not return. That initiated full games from Dolezaj and Chukwu to great effect. It’ll be interesting to see if Jim Boeheim goes the Frank Howard/Battle route with those two if Moyer’s still reeling.

After the game he said Syracuse will play three-guard lineups minus Moyer, with Howard Washington improving in practice

Surprisingly, Chukwu’s been able to eat significant minutes (35+ in four of the last six) since Sidibe’s season turned into sporadic appearances and minutes with his knee injury. Boeheim added he’s feeling better.

His outlook on Moyer sounded grim.

“He could be out for a while.”

Chukwu assertiveness

Chukwu is not getting nearly enough credit for his dominance this season. Of course, he misses dunks, mishandles low passes and moves around the court with the finesse of a boulder but his constant presence has been vital in an inconsistent front court.

Wednesday he added another memorable performance to a lengthy list of good games for him this season. The exclamation point, a hard dunk in the pick-and-roll with some sauce on it.

Chukwu’s playing as direct, assertive and is keeping his fouls relatively low (3.0) even in heavy minutes. Foul trouble for him is over for SU, and he’s only run into it in a double overtime game against Florida St. Meanwhile, he’s blocking over three shots per game well into conference play, boasts a 10.6 defensive box plus-minus (5th best in NCAA) and out of nowhere is an 82 percent free throw shooter over his last 29 attempts. If Chukwu continues to grow by the game, SU’s chances of peaking late look better.

What are you looking for from tomorrow’s matchup?