The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team fell to the Duke Blue Devils, 84-72 on Thursday night in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. This wouldn’t have been surprising if every Orange player was healthy. Still, even without Tyus Battle in the game, there was a lot to like about SU’s effort, even if it fell short in the end.
Looking ahead to Selection Sunday, the most important things you need to know are that Syracuse is in the NCAA Tournament field, they finished 20-13 and this game against Duke certainly didn’t hurt their ability to get something similar to a 9-seed. Beyond that, here are the rest of our takeaways:
“The Frank Howard Game?”
Despite the nightmarish start and six turnovers, Howard’s team-leading 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting (4-of-9 from three) was a revelation for the Orange and the primary reason they were in this game at all beyond the first seven minutes or so. No one on the team is much of a ball-handler beyond the absent Battle, as evidenced by the 17 turnovers overall and just seven assists, but Howard did manage to help push the team past those struggles.
More important, perhaps, than the points scored in this game was the confidence that the last two hopefully inspired in the senior point guard. After a comeback player of the year-worthy performance last season, many SU fans have been frustrated by Howard’s lackluster 8.2 points and 2.9 dimes per game coming into tonight. Obvious caveats abound with regard to his preseason injury. But a combined 46 points over the past two games should pay dividends come the NCAA Tournament if he can even get close to those marks. Syracuse has lacked a consistent shooter beyond Battle all year. Frank may be willing to take that mantle once more.
No comment on the tripping incident, however... It was a bad look that thankfully didn’t get anyone hurt.
Syracuse goes as its big men go
Assuming we’re getting something out of the backcourt of Howard, Battle and Boeheim most nights, the biggest variance for the Orange usually seems to be how the forwards — in particular Paschal Chukwu, Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj — perform. In this game, Syracuse was at its best when Chukwu was in the game, but early foul trouble once again limited his minutes and he was gone pretty early despite sitting for a good portion of the second half.
As a group, the three forwards had just five points on 2-for-3 shooting to pair with 10 rebounds, three turnovers and 10 fouls. That’s not going to work, and it showed how little Duke paid attention to the inside options in this game. The Blue Devils weren’t all that great on defense aside from the first half steals. But spent their time pressuring ball-handlers since they didn’t really have to worry about the big men. This offense can’t work if two of the five players on the floor can be ignored by the defense.
Buddy Boeheim ready for primetime
We’ve known for awhile that Boeheim’s been coming along as a shooter in ACC play, and that was true once again in this game. He had 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting (3-of-5 from three) and when Syracuse was really pressing and had the game tied at 46, it was Boeheim putting the offense on his back. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t hit another field goal until there were fewer than four minutes remaining.
Buddy obviously has some quirks to his game that will get ironed out in time, but you had to like what we saw over the past two games in this ACC Tournament. A total of 35 points on 11-of-22 shooting. His usage will go down with Battle back in the lineup, but at this point, Boeheim’s proven that he can be a lethal shooter who can pace this offense and help keep defenses closer to the perimeter (which should open up some options inside if SU can take advantage).
Beyond Buddy, just having the non-Battle options on this team get a chance to do something with the offense could translate to more reliable scorers come tournament time. For a team that spent much of the year just playing isolation ball and looking for Tyus to bail them out, that’s a welcome relief.
Some of the other takeaways that you won’t be as enthused about: Zion Williamson came back and did whatever he wanted against Syracuse with 29 points on 14-of-14 shooting and 14 boards. Also, despite the fact that the Orange were an underdog here and that shouldn’t count against them, they still lost before the ACC Tournament semifinals yet again. SU’s now just 2-5 in the ACC Tourney sine joining the league. At some point, we’ll need to get over the hump, right?