The Syracuse Orange was handed its first loss of ACC play at the hands of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday evening. Syracuse came into the contest with a four-game winning streak and at 2-0 in conference play with a chance to continue to build momentum ahead of the team’s trip to Durham, North Carolina to take on the Duke Blue Devils. Instead, the “let-down game” narrative was fulfilled as the Orange was clipped after a second half meltdown. Syracuse fell to 11-5 on the season and 2-1 in the ACC.
Here’s what to take away from Saturday’s game:
Syracuse offense struggles against zone
The Orange struggled to find open looks and, instead, settled for threes for the entire half: 75 percent of Syracuse’s shots in the first half came from behind the three-point line. Had Syracuse moved the ball around and had failed to make open looks, Syracuse could chalk the loss up to poor luck. That wasn’t the case, though. The team was stagnant on offense. There was no dribble penetration and little use of the high-post to pass through the zone. Most frustrating was the lack of proactive measures taken to attack the zone with sets or schemes. The team looked unprepared.
Georgia Tech put on a 40-minute clinic of defending the Orange in the half court and this game could very well be the tape that future coaches use as a blueprint to taking down Syracuse. Head coach Josh Pastner deserves credit for scheming to slow Syracuse’s offense and forcing the Orange to launch three-pointers over his team’s zone.
Buddy Boeheim sparks hope
Syracuse fell behind by 18 points with 12:17 remaining in the second half. The Orange were in a downward spiral. After going into the half trailing by one, Syracuse surrendered a 24-7 run to start the second half before Buddy Boeheim sparked the Orange with back to back three pointers. Following his second, he helped trap Georgia Tech into a timeout. The Carrier Dome crowd rose to their feet as Syracuse had quickly cut the Yellow Jacket lead to ten.
Buddy finished the game with nine points on 3-11 shooting in 21 minutes. The overall performance wasn’t impressive, but there was a moment that did spark hope that he could become the sharpshooter that Syracuse fans had expected him to be for this team.
Tyus Battle struggles
Tyus Battle struggled to find any sort of rhythm against Georgia Tech’s zone. After draining a three to open the scoring for Syracuse, Battle made just two of his next ten attempts from the field. Battle ultimately finished with an inefficient 11 points and turned the ball over three times.
The Georgia Tech zone cut down on one-on-one opportunities that Battle relies on to score his points. He was often standing 25-plus feet from the basket and forced to pass the ball around to try to beat the zone by passing. Georgia Tech’s defensive scheme effectively kept Battle in check — he scored 6.5 points less than his per-game average.
Orange remain inconsistent
Syracuse was seemingly turning the corner after going on the road to take down Notre Dame and handling Clemson at home despite poor shooting. In both games, Syracuse showed effective ball movement and offense which it hadn’t shown to that point in the season, but Syracuse took a step backward in that department against Georgia Tech. As mentioned above, SU struggled getting anything going on offense and turned the ball over a season-high 19 times.
The Orange also regressed defensively as the team allowed 73 points against a below average offensive team. Georgia Tech dominated Syracuse on the interior with its high-low action. The team also had a streak of easy run outs to open the second half that helped the Yellow Jackets pull ahead.
Syracuse has its work cut out for it in the rest of ACC play. A game against Georgia Tech at home is a game that the Orange should win. The team’s performance in non-conference play put it in a position with little margin for error in its conference schedule and losing this game puts even more pressure on Syracuse to pick up big wins over its final 15 regular season games.