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Syracuse’s season-high 22 assists coincide with hot shooting from outside

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Oh, so THAT’S ball movement.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

There was plenty to be impressed by in the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team’s 73-53 win over the Miami Hurricanes. But the most jarring (in a good way) takeaways of all came from the team’s 22 assists and 14 three-pointers. The latter was just one make short of the school record... that amazingly did not occur while Gerry McNamara was playing for SU (it was 2017 vs. Georgia Tech).

For those that have watched a lot of Syracuse these past four or five years, ball movement and threes haven’t been the Orange’s forte (save for swathes of 2016-17). Those things usually coincide with one another, so it’s no surprise that we haven’t seen much of either the outside shooting or assists. And yet, as this season’s wore on, they’re creeping further into Syracuse’s gameplan. To little surprise, the wins have seemingly followed that trend, too.

NCAA Basketball: Miami-Florida at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Now, this game’s highs are obviously helped by a Miami zone forced into action due to a short bench. We’ve been victims of this sort of showing before, especially last year. But even with the opportunities the zone presents, it still takes talent to make those passes and hit those shots. Lately, Syracuse has been able to deliver on both.

Since a 21.2 percent (7-of-33) showing from outside against Georgia Tech in an embarrassing loss at the Dome two weeks ago, SU’s been on a tear from three. An appropriate 44 percent against Duke transitioned to hitting 46.2 percent (12-of-26) against Pitt. On Thursday, they were 14 of 33 — a 46.7-percent clip. All of this from a team that was barely over 30 percent from distance on the season coming into this three-game stretch.

The assists, to no surprise, have increased similarly. They hit the season average of 13 against Duke (you can thank an uncharacteristic number of fast-breaks there), then 17 against Pitt and the aforementioned 22 here vs. Miami.

SU’s dimes came from unexpected sources in this one, though, as Orange coach Jim Boeheim addressed after the game:

“.... Tyus (Battle) had nine assists, I know that’s a record for him and Marek (Dolezaj) had five again. There’s not many forwards who have the 2:1 assist ratio and he does that. He’s starting to look for his scores, he can find places in there to score as well.”

On top of those 14 assists accounted for above (nine from Tyus Battle, five for Marek Dolezaj), Elijah Hughes chipped in three as well, along with two each from Oshae Brissett and Buddy Boeheim, and one from Frank Howard — the team’s per-game assist leader coming in at 3.9.

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

A continuation of that trend (minus Howard’s off-game) plus the threes is a recipe for success in ACC play, one would think.

After the Duke game, some of us (raises hand) thought it was a sign of an up-tempo offense to come that finally put the team’s elite talent and athleticism to use. In large part, it hasn’t been and Syracuse hasn’t come anywhere near those 95 points in the two games since.

Still, that game did provide some sort of blueprint when it came to establishing a more efficient offense. Better ball movement and more varied options on offense creates outside shooting opportunities. Having knockdown three-point shooters like Hughes (6-for-9 vs. Miami) and Buddy Boeheim (3-for-6) makes that a much more viable solution than what we’ve seen from this team when those opportunities aren’t falling.

That last bit is the one potential worry, given the fact that we’ve seen SU go very, very cold from outside numerous times this year. But if the passing keeps up — and it should most games now that players beyond Howard can handle the ball regularly — it should mean better available jump shots at the very least. Whether they hit them as they have lately is what will tell us whether all of this leads to a continuation of the Orange’s winning ways.