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Jim Boeheim: Syracuse ‘paid the price’ for slow start in non-conference play

Boeheim weighed his team’s 2018 performance, gave insight into the back court and complimented Clemson on the ACC teleconference.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Jim Boeheim appeared on the first ACC men’s basketball coaches teleconference, which occurs regularly through the league schedule. The Syracuse Orange beat Notre Dame by 10 in their league opener and face the Clemson Tigers at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, off their blowout loss to Duke.

Prior to Syracuse’s three recent wins — all fairly efficient offensive performances — SU struggled through injuries and inconsistent shooting on the way to four losses to Old Dominion, Buffalo, Oregon and Connecticut. Syracuse ranks fifth among ACC schools in non-conference strength of schedule and 51st in the country.

“We had a good schedule of tough games,” Boeheim said. “We didn’t play as well as we’d like to play early and we paid the price.”

Boeheim added that if you play a quality schedule, those teams will inherently be tested with a variety of styles, strategies and talent. That all checks out if you look up and down the list for the Orange.

Syracuse ultimately faced zone looks from Notre Dame’s defense, which they ripped apart behind six threes from Elijah Hughes in spite of nearly going the whole game without a free throw attempt. As a team, the Orange shot 41 percent from outside.

“I think he’s been really good, remarkably consistent from the very beginning of the year,” Boeheim said of Hughes. “He’s starting to be a little more aggressive over the last few games.”

Hughes has shot 54.5 percent over Syracuse’s last three wins, which also happen to be their best offensive performances of the season. They’ve also hit on 42.9 percent of threes. Hughes has scored double figures in all but two games so far this year.

That offensive production has both boosted the Orange’s fortune on that end relative to last year, and is helping to offset the continued struggles of Frank Howard from the field to begin his senior year.

“It’s been slower than we thought,” said of Howard’s return from a preseason ankle injury. “He’s not at the level he played at last year at the last 15-20 games... I think there’s a noticeable improvement, but here’s still not quite back there.”

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Howard, however, has assisted Jalen Carey through his transition to point guard — a position he didn’t play often before college. He said Howard is always talking to Carey and has been helpful to their transition. That group has struggled from the field, shooting 45-for-127 (35.4 percent) after both Howard and Carey missed time early in the year.

The only other Syracuse point guard, sophomore Howard Washington, has only played 10 minutes this year following his torn ACL and likely won’t see any more minutes while pushing for a medical redshirt.

Syracuse’s varied array of results now must compound into their performances nightly against an ACC that appears more balanced than last year’s. Incoming opponent Clemson hung with No. 1 Duke in the first half of their ACC opener, until Zion Williamson led a double digit beatdown in the second half highlighted by his 360-degree breakaway dunk.

Off their loss, Marquise Reed will play with a brace as the Tigers’ leading scorer enters dealing with knee soreness early in the season. according to head coach Brad Brownell.

“They are a veteran team, fourth and fifth-year players,” Boeheim said of Clemson. “They are a very good basketball team.”