Numbers need context. While 72 points won’t move the needle on Syracuse’s offensive averages and metrics, it showed a world of improvement from where they started the season.
In a 72-62 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, Syracuse faced foul trouble, nearly attempted 0 free throws for the first time this decade and received only 5-for-13 shooting from the point guard position. The Orange still managed to get by through making shots from the field, rebounding on both ends of the floor and playing one of their best floor games all season.
Here’s what we learned about this undefeated team in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Notre Dame forced Syracuse to make shots, and they did
Thank the transfer gods for Elijah Hughes. Despite starting every game, looking sound in the zone from last year’s practices and consistently scoring double figures he didn’t looked fully entrenched in the offensive framework.
Now, thanks to the sheer volume of quality shots that he puts up, his quick trigger and shiftiness on the way to the basket, he’s uplifting the Syracuse offense by simply getting the ball up. He unloaded 16 shots — 13 of them three-pointers — to score 39 of Syracuse’s 72 points in combination with Tyus Battle. Neither of them attempted a free throw.
The thought that Syracuse — averaging 25 attempts from the line per game — could generate 68 points, just below their average, without taking a single free throw said much about how far this team’s floor game on offense has come. The Irish loomed large entering as the 8th best team in the nation in not surrendering free throws to opponents (now 11.8 per game). Syracuse added four points on late free throw attempts by Oshae Brissett, still their lowest FTA in a game since at least 2010-11 for the program.
Hughes, in forming a three-headed attack with Battle and Brissett, has been crucial to the recent offensive resurgence they’d need to win. Saturday marked his seventh straight game in double figures, and he’s 20 for his last 38 from the field — now a 40 percent shooter.
He also hit 4 of Syracuse’s 11 threes the only other time they shot above 41 percent outside — their other key road win over Ohio State (45.8%). The Orange now stand 1.2 percentage points above last year’s group from the field and hit 1.5 more threes per game. That’s all while only recently shaking off immense early struggles; the Notre Dame win proved those two 80-point performances against shaky competition weren’t anomalies and actually represented growth.
It would’ve been difficult to imagine a team going from seven rotation players to 10 brushing up with fatal foul trouble. Notre Dame held a 15-0 free throw attempt advantage with 5:50 remaining, had already fouled out Marek Dolezaj, soon disqualified Paschal Chukwu and pushed Bourama Sidibe to the brink with three.
Syracuse withheld through Battle, Brissett and Hughes, combining only for one personal between them, while ramping up the rebounding effort with their two forwards and Sidibe. This group flexed its depth and didn’t even need to reach down to Robert Braswell for any minutes.
The Orange only shot 41 percent from the field against Notre Dame, so they bolstered their floor game and three-point shooting by controlling the rebounding game on both ends of the floor. Tyus Battle grabbed three of Syracuse’s 15 offensive rebounds, and SU out-rebounded ND in total by 10.
Two put-backs by Battle added four points, Jalen Carey hit a jumper following one by Paschal Chukwu, while most of them simply extended possessions against the Fighting Irish defense. A key sequence in the second half where Sidibe grabbed two in a row, then rushed back to haul in a defensive board in traffic shut down a late rush where ND pulled within eight with 90 seconds remaining. Frank Howard closed the game shortly after with a three.
Jim Boeheim’s lineups largely surrendered last year’s height, but since Hughes (10 reb) and Brissett (11 reb) capably play above their height on defense and in the rebounding department this group can maintain its advantage in that department.