The Syracuse Orange have an issue. One they won’t have much time to correct. In losing four of their final sixth games — for the seventh straight season — Syracuse led at half in five. Four second-half collapses revealed a problem closing games that they could not mitigate before the season closed on SU at 19-12.
Excluding the Orange’s blowout win over bottom-dwelling Wake Forest, Syracuse built a combined 145-128 lead at halftime — an average of 4.25 points — over Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson. All four qualified as quadrant-one opponents, so it wasn’t chump competition, but Syracuse could not even compete in losing the four second halves by a combined 186-113. That’s an average loss by 18.25 points in those halves.
Now on the dawn of the ACC Tournament, where Syracuse will play as a six or seven seed depending on if Louisville wins its final game, the Orange could end up wondering if they’re even a NCAA Tournament team when the preseason question was could they compete with the best for the national title. In four games against some of those contenders, the answer was unequivocally no.
Here’s three takeaways from the final one against now-NCAA Tournament candidate Clemson.
Fouls, and not the good kind
Clemson grabbed a lead within the first eight minutes of the second half after trailing 31-24 through the first 20 minutes. The Tigers hit a 14-0 run where they held Syracuse scoreless for 5:21 of game time. The stretch indicted the Orange’s offense again, but also called into question their ability to defend without fouling.
Five of the 14 Clemson points came from the stripe, and in a game where the Tigers shot 5-of-24 from three, SU allowed them to make up for it with 24-for-30 free throw shooting. The Orange shot 13-for-17, an 11-point advantage for Clemson in a 12-point win.
Few of the fouls disrupted Clemson’s ability to score. Syracuse sent Marcquise Reed to the line four times, where he shot 8-for-8. Three of Syracuse’s second-half fouls were on made baskets, including Bourama Sidibe running over David Skara well after he took a baseline shot.
Buddy Boeheim fouled Shelton Mitchell lightly deep on the left wing down 49-47 to give up three points at the line, and soon after Frank Howard fouled Reed after he stole the ball from Tyus Battle. Howard fouled out 7:50 remaining and Clemson never led by less than seven points from there.
Syracuse dominated on the boards again
Jim Boeheim’s been consistent of late stating that the Orange are not a good rebounding team and they’ve held to that statement lately. Down 38-33 in the second half, Elijah Thomas secured a rebound in front of Marek Dolezaj and Sidibe. After the in-bounds, Reed hit a three to begin Clemson’s game-winning 14-0 run.
The Tigers ended the game with seven offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s zero from that point on. None of the ensuing board directly led to baskets, but contributed to a fatigued defensive effort and lost time for a trailing Syracuse team. Clemson won the rebounding battle by 45-30, 18-6 on the offensive glass. Thomas led the Tigers with six on offense and five on defense.
Syracuse ended the season ranked last in the ACC in defensive rebounding through ACC play. The Orange played Wake and Virginia within two rebounds, but a similarly-dominant 38-23 effort by North Carolina over SU in their previous game. Dylan analyzed the potential rebounding problem this week.
Syracuse running out of options offensively
For the fourth time in the past seven games Battle failed to score more than 11 points. Elijah Hughes scored zero for the first time all year. Howard fouled out and shot 1-for-6 with three points. Oshae Brissett picked up the load with 15 points, but Syracuse returned to its starved look on offense from early in the season again.
Buddy Boeheim figures in lately as a double-figure scorer. Dolezaj has averaged 4.1 points per game with Paschal Chukwu rarely touching double figures himself. The inconsistency of the wing players and lack of consistent interior scoring pressed Sidibe into action for the first time in recent memory for eight points off the bench, but SU only mounted 55.
No matter the defensive level, Syracuse won’t win any games where they post sub-60 points like against Clemson, Virginia and NC State of late. The Orange’s per-game offensive output dropped 1.9 points per game between non-conference and ACC play.