Oshae Brissett swung his elbow and grazed Ty Jerome’s face attempting to get low-post position against Virginia. Play did not stop. If it did it, it would have drawn more attention to another game of frustration and struggles for Brissett.
Jay Williams tried his best at halftime, undertaking one of two rants against the Syracuse Orange in March. Brissett finished 2-for-8 with six points after the Cavaliers trounced SU 47-19 in the second half. He — like Syracuse — fell short of massive expectations in 2018-19.
The easy reflection became the game’s lost significance for Tyus Battle, who shot 5-for-19, facing suffocating De’Andre Hunter defense. He did not need to confirm it would be his last game at the Carrier Dome. The same could not be said for Brissett at the time, but it wound up being the case. Their accomplishments diminished under the weight of expectations they built through the most unlikely Sweet 16 run in Syracuse history. That success birthed a curse of “more.”
Brissett broke out as one of the nation’s rising studs on the wing in 2018’s ACC and NCAA Tournaments. He averaged 16.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. The hottest teams on Brissett’s radar as a recruit included Oregon, USC and Memphis. Only Boston College joined SU on his trail from the ACC, which he led in free throws made in 2018.
After a 69-65 loss to Duke — while Coach K piled praise upon him and NBA types turned their heads — Brissett said he had no plans then to move on from Syracuse. When Battle returned too, Jim Boeheim said the group could be at least as good defensively. They were, but Brissett and SU struggled to establish consistent play and he decided to turn pro a week before his decision deadline.
Brissett’s legacy reflects a complicated era for Syracuse basketball. Low-key recruitment finds like Brissett, off the beaten path in Canada, saved a program that could have sunk in the aftermath of sanctions. The taste of success that cast provided in 2018 would not satisfy fans through the ups-and-downs ahead.
National championship prospects inspired him following the Duke loss and kept him around. Though his 6’8” frame, the 33% three-point shot he developed and the power of his game adopted expectations to build for both next season and the draft. The latter ambition did not exist when he ranked 137th in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
Brissett became a ferocious rebounder and produced the third-most freshman double-doubles in program history, behind Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Coleman. He spent the summer following 2017-18 in Las Vegas with his trainer and tweaked his shot further with Adrian Autry.
Syracuse’s system provided the opportunity to play power forward, the spot he would need to slide to in a smaller NBA, but lacked the activity he would play in at the combine. After squashing the Orange’s first two opponents for 37 points and 21 rebounds, he hopped on a plane to New York City and went south.
He made 2-of-13 threes in devastating losses to Connecticut and Oregon and his season-long streak of difficulty around the basket began. A few highlight slams typical from his game did make up for overall challenges finishing around the basket and through crowds.
The move to power forward kept him in the same spot defensively, he said. On offense, he moved into the paint around bigger bodies. His defensive rating improved by one point, and his offensive rating dropped by nearly 10 to 94.
His 28% start from three in non-conference play led him to decrease the number of shots he took against ACC competition. He posted three straight double-doubles to begin February — a potential turning point, then shot 1-for-9 in a blowout loss to NC State.
Brissett scored in the single digits five times in SU’s final 10 games, as the team wound up fizzling out in the first round. His only offensive niche at Syracuse became slashing and attacking the offensive glass.
“Oshae hasn’t played great offensively all year so I don’t think it really mattered,” Boeheim said after the Virginia loss. “(Brissett) has struggled shooting the ball so teams are playing him to drive and that’s just how it has been.”
Brissett’s constant presence in the lineup played a crucial role in SU’s success, first when the team had seven rotation players his freshman year and he logged entire games. Then when the team struggled on the interior his second, he provided a mainstay at the four. He could defend wing and interior players, and rebounded better than anyone on the roster.
The gap between what he reverted to in year two and what the NBA views him as could showcase limitations in how SU utilized him. There are plenty of what-ifs surrounding his time on the hill, but the team did make the NCAA Tournament in both of his seasons.
With Frank Howard suspended, Paschal Chukwu nearly unplayable and the offense relegating to deep Elijah Hughes shots against Baylor, Brissett mustered 14 points and eight rebounds in his final game.
His departure could be best for both sides. Brissett moves on to play in a league that could better utilize him. Syracuse can move on to its next era, likely relying on a mix of Quincy Guerrier and Elijah Hughes to fill his role on the wing.
That era should be remembered as one that inspired hope as much as despair. As frustrating as that became, it beat irrelevancy. Brissett and others helped them escape that through unforgettable moments like the Duke and Michigan State upsets.
Those built expectations that superseded their grasp in 2019. To expect more is reasonable, but remembering Brissett through the scope of those upsets and what promise they seemed to hint at will spoil the remarkable find he was for Boeheim, Autry and SU’s staff. While he wasn’t always consistent, he was certainly a player we should remember for a positive impact at SU. For his part, Brissett appears to hold SU and its fans in high regard already as he moves on.
“Thank you Orange Nation for accepting a kid from Missassauga,” Brissett wrote on Twitter. “I will always BLEED ORANGE.”