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Buddy Boeheim comfortable taking over for Tyus Battle in Syracuse basketball’s win

With Elijah Hughes and Jared Wilson-Frame engulfed in a shooting contest the Syracuse wing couldn’t win, Buddy Boeheim stepped up with the gutsy shots in place of Tyus Battle.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Pittsburgh vs Syracuse Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It’s indisputable that Tyus Battle is among the greatest big shot-makers in Syracuse Orange history. Sidelined for the first time in his Syracuse career, Buddy Boeheim not only assumed his spot with the starters, but also hit those vital shots throughout the game.

Against Pittsburgh to kick off the ACC Tournament, Boeheim stepped into Battle’s ginormous shoes, the epicenter of the Syracuse offense for three years running, and scored a career-high 20 points.

They stemmed from six field goals, a trio of deep threes and 5-for-7 free throw shooting. The threes came three or four steps behind the line. He also did what his father said earlier in the season that he couldn’t, getting to the rim, scoring in-between and even putting back an offensive rebound through a foul for a three-point play.

“I knew I’d have a chance to get in the lane and make plays,” he said. “That’s what we needed to do for me to help win, and I just want to be more than a shooter. That’s what I’m working on.”

He added that Gerry McNamara and learning from Frank Howard helped prepare him for the pressure he and others faced against the Pitt press. To deflect smaller defenders, he used his body to veer them off and work passing angles.

That Boeheim is playing minutes under Jim Boeheim would appear nepotism to some, but his son’s warranted minutes as crucial complementary scoring for a starving Syracuse offense. Boeheim averaged nearly two three-pointers per game in ACC play on 40.7 percent shooting. That corresponded with double-figure scoring in seven of eighteen games.

On Wednesday, Boeheim posted a pair of steals, three offensive rebounds, kicked out passes for a trio of threes and became the force that glued together a 43-23 second half by the Orange. At halftime, SU trailed 36-30 with only Elijah Hughes contributing offensively while Oshae Brissett, Howard and Boeheim began a combined 3-for-11.

Jared Wilson-Frame, entering the game scoring 13.4 points per game in four career games against Syracuse, dropped 18 on the Orange’s head with six first-half threes. Hughes’ trio of threes only made a dent. Boeheim scored five points, in his regular complementary role, over the first 20 minutes, but came out of halftime with a different approach than ever before.

Boeheim’s audacity to spot up miles behind the three point line represented a turning point in his own freshman season. He looked comfortable and assertive in taking the lead, rather than playing off others. Syracuse, on its game-changing 8-0 run early in the second, followed his lead in a rare outward expression of emotion.

“In practice, we make him scream. We make him react to shots and stuff. So we make him show a little bit of emotion,” Howard said. “He’s a competitor regardless. He’s just not very vocal about it, and he’s young. But that got me hyped today. That kind of all turned us up.”

That’s an important trend both now and going forward. Howard graduates after this season and Battle likely pursues the NBA Draft. In the short term, Jim Boeheim said that Battle isn’t expected to be ready to play for two or three more days.

Boeheim didn’t play mistake-free. On one play he got caught hesitating in the high post after picking up his dribble and lost the ball. On another, he passed to Hughes, still on the ground, who slipped on a sweaty floor and nearly injured himself trying to receive the pass.

He made up for it by hitting Hughes from behind half court after his own back-to-back threes for another to break a tie game for good. Boeheim’s next dish, breaking into the high post on the drive, set up Howard for one of his four threes.

The extra minutes in Battle’s place didn’t require Boeheim to become him. It rather allowed him to maximize his different scoring skills that he flashed all season, now in a primary role. On a night where Wilson-Frame tied the Pittsburgh record for threes, with eight, Syracuse hit two more than the Panthers behind Boeheim and his role setting up others.

In what’s become a mark of these Orange team at their best, Hughes and Boeheim allow them to become a shooting team. A 44.4 percent mark from three accounted for 36 of SU’s 73 points.

Without Battle, Syracuse still looked like its usual selves struggling to put the ball in the net for stretches in the win over Pittsburgh. But that ever-comfortable ability to toss the ball to Battle and let him go to work disappeared. Boeheim filled the void.

Tonight, against the No. 5 team in the country in Duke, he’ll need to do it again for SU to even stand a chance.

“His mother tells me he should be playing more all the time, every day,” the elder Boeheim said after the win over Pitt. “He’s been well prepared to step up in this kind of game. He really turned the game in the second half.”