Despite not having Tyus Battle on the floor at all, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team still managed to score a 73-59 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday night.
While Pitt’s not a marquee victory by any means, it does mean 20 wins for Syracuse, potentially locking up an NCAA Tournament bid (if they hadn’t already) and a date with Duke on Thursday night. Also, it was just the second time topping 70 points since the start of February.
What are the other main takeaways from the late night down in Charlotte? Here’s three of ours:
A second half team, for once
Especially of late, this Syracuse squad has been defined by second-half fades. With leads over Clemson, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke over the last few weeks, the Orange managed to lose all of those matchups in increasingly frustrating fashion. But this time, they flipped the script: Syracuse trailed 36-30 at halftime, then caught fire in the second and outscored Pitt 43-23 over the final 20 minutes.
It helped that no Panthers shooter really showed up beyond Jared Wilson-Frame (24 points), but that was partially due to the Orange clamping down on defense, (barely) winning the rebound battle and SU’s own offense getting hot from outside. Syracuse wasn’t necessarily pushing the pace, but they abandoned the first half iso-ball in favor of a little more passing and exploiting Pitt’s perimeter defenders for some open looks from outside.
You also can’t mention the second-half surge without talking about Paschal Chukwu’s effort. His line won’t attract a ton of attention, but seven points, nine rebounds and six blocks were big parts of how SU was able to quickly take a lead and then extend it by the halfway point in the second. Chukwu was sneaky automatic going 2-for-2 from the floor and 3-for-3 from the line. His ability to fight down low despite foul trouble was also noted, and he didn’t foul out until very late.
There’s an offense beyond just Tyus Battle
Syracuse has never had much of an offensive gameplan to begin with this year, but without Battle, things looked even rougher than normal in this one. When things finally settled down, though, it was on the strength of a few players that probably benefited from the confidence boost as the team’s primary sources of scoring: Buddy Boeheim, Frank Howard and Elijah Hughes.
Boeheim led the team with 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including three makes from outside and five free throws. He also added six boards and four assists, while consistently battling for loose balls. He also served as one of the main ball-handlers for the team, which didn’t necessarily have a “point guard” during the game.
Frank Howard, who hadn’t hit double-digits since he scored 11 against UNC, had 18 himself, with four threes in a nice bounceback effort that could set up an improved postseason. Elijah Hughes also had 18 (with five threes), plus four boards and three assists. After scoring zero points against Clemson, that’s exactly the type of game SU needs from him if they have a shot to advance in the NCAAs.
Where’s Oshae Brissett gone?
Brissett shot just 2-of-8 from the floor and had four points and six rebounds while spending most of the second half on the bench. He struggled early and despite driving the lane (which was much needed), his issues finishing at the rim continued. The sophomore forward has been hot and cold all year and hasn’t put together back-to-back games scoring 10 or more since he had three straight against Pitt, Florida State and Boston College back in early February.
In a game where three players scored between 18 and 20, we can deal with Brissett disappearing. But his ability to play in the paint on offense is something no other Orange player can really do consistently. If he can get there, it’ll be a welcome wrinkle.