Brooklyn, N.Y. — After an 0-2 effort in the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team fell to 4-3 on the season. On Wednesday night, Oklahoma State turned the game into a track meet and beat Syracuse 86-72. On Friday night, Penn State outmuscled the Orange on the boards on won convincing, 85-64. It’s the first 4-3 start to the since in 22 years.
Syracuse drops a second straight double-digit loss in NYC. This one is 85-64 to an OK Penn State team. Yikes. Orange don't look good at 4-3 so far: 0-3 against Power 5 teams; first 4-3 start in 22 years.— Matthew Gutierrez (@MatthewGut21) November 30, 2019
Now, given the losses of Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, Frank Howard and Paschal Chukwu, perhaps this 4-3 start was somewhat expected. Elijah Hughes was the only returning starter from a season ago. Every player is taking on a larger role from last year, including Hughes, and the four freshmen are trying to get acclimated to the college game.
Hughes looks every bit as ready for his starring role. He’s stepped up this year and is averaging 19.0 points through seven games to along with 4.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and a steal per contest. He’s one of few Syracuse players who looked comfortable down in New York City this week, while the other players still look like they’re trying to find rhythm and where they fit on both ends of the floor.
“We have to get more out of our guards,” Jim Boeheim said after the loss to Penn State. “We have to get more out of everybody but the bottom line is, we have to get something more out of the center position. At least rebounding for sure. Points are always nice but we have to rebound.
“We started off the game, I think Bourama had two layups and missed them both. (He) had a couple good opportunities to get good defensive rebounds and didn’t get them.”
After the Penn State game, Bourama Sidibe said he was battling a cold and his body was weak, which didn’t allow him to move like he normally does. He said his knee was holding up fine. That’s plausible for a 2 point, 1 rebound and 5 foul showing in 17 minutes, but Sidibe knows he has to be better.
Sidibe is key this year because while Marek Dolezaj might make the offense better from the center spot, nobody else has the potential to do what Sidibe can defensively on this team from the center position. Dolezaj didn’t play the way he’s capable of in Brooklyn, and Boeheim said he expects him to play better. Jesse Edwards has a bright future, but he was outmatched physically against more physical bodies in limited action on Wednesday.
Syracuse also has to get more from its guards, as Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim struggled to shoot it on both nights, while Brycen Goodine is still finding his way.
“I though this team would take a while. It’s going to take longer. I thought it would take 10 or 12 games. I don’t know if it will be done in 15 or 20 games,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got two young guards that just aren’t doing the things we need to win and our center’s not.
“We don’t have a lot right now to look forward to, to really pin our hopes on.”
Hughes followed that up by saying the younger guys know they have to get better. This isn’t something that the freshmen are oblivious to.
“They understand that. Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Hughes opined. “They understand that. You know guys like Joe, Brycen and Quincy. They understand we gotta get better from here.”
For now, it’s back to the drawing board and back to work at the Melo Center for Syracuse. This is similar territory for where the Orange have been the past four seasons. They could figure it out, beat some teams they probably shouldn’t in the ACC and eventually make the big dance. That’s all on the table still, but for now this is a team that has a lot of work to do and a long road ahead.
“This is going to take time. Anybody that didn’t understand that wasn’t really paying attention. We’ve got a long way to go. We’re going to have to go through some painful time. That’s what you do with young players. We need Joe, Brycen and Quincy to play well and that’s three freshmen,” Boeheim said.
It won’t get much easier from here, as Syracuse will go home and get ready for Iowa before taking a two game road trip to Georgia Tech and then Georgetown. Then only three more non-conference games stand in between Syracuse and 18 conference games.
“We’ve gotta just keep getting better,” Hughes said. “That’s really the only thing I can say right now.”