Syracuse’s defense has wavered so greatly this season that Mike Young and Virginia Tech thought two swing passes into a 25-foot heave by Landers Nolley would deliver the Hokies another comeback victory over the Orange.
It could have, we’ve seen that play work before against SU during a second-half collapse. This time it didn’t. In Joseph Girard III’s spot at the top of the zone, Elijah Hughes rotated over to Nolley and contested his shot.
With Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier on the wings, Nolley’s miss deflected off the backboard to Bourama Sidibe in a crowd. Dolezaj scooped it up and ran to the corner, hitting two free throws after to secure a 71-69 victory.
Nolley might’ve drilled that shot if Girard couldn’t rotate over. Instead, Jim Boeheim got Young back after Virginia Tech won its first game ever in the Carrier Dome two weeks ago.
His use of Howard Washington in the second half, Quincy Guerrier throughout an up-and-down game for Sidibe and his seed to create a lethal scorer in Buddy Boeheim produced a third straight victory for SU.
Syracuse secured its first pair of quartile-one wins during its best stretch of play all season. Whether or not the Hokies and Cavaliers hang around at the top of the sport remains to be seen. All the Orange can do is win the games in front of them, starting with a Notre Dame squad that’s 1-4 outside of a victory over Cuse in the ACC.
The what-ifs begin as Syracuse shows us something. To the takeaways.
Buddy Boeheim is one of the most lethal scorers in college basketball (but James already told you that)
Boeheim missed his first pair of three-point tries in the first half and Jim gave Washington some early run with the Orange down 14-8. Washington hit a shot off Buddy’s pass to start Syracuse’s monstrous turnaround, but Boeheim wouldn’t need much more help than that.
He drilled a three from the right wing on a kickout from Guerrier. Then he dribbled to the baseline and elbow on separate possessions to drill back-to-back fadeaway jumpers and gain a lead.
Boeheim previously shot exclusively spotting-up, now his emerging ability to put the ball on the floor and score pulling-up raises places him among the ACC’s best scorers. He shot 5-of-7 inside the arc and 5-of-13 from outside to craft a 50% shooting afternoon where he dropped a team-high 26 points.
This looked like Hughes’ team and whoever else would come along for the ride would be welcome each night when the season began. Recently, they’re co-conspirators. Buddy scored 22 against Boston College to Hughes’ 19. Hughes dropped 18 while Boeheim dropped 14 in the Virginia win.
Syracuse now has balance offensively, with Marek Dolezaj chipping in 11 points in Saturday’s victory with excellent touch in the post. It starts with Boeheim, who’s playmaking and scoring on the dribble more than ever before. Nahiem Alleyne guarded him, leaving a shorter defender in Wabissa Bede on Hughes.
While Bede held Hughes to a 2-for-11 start, he escaped for three straight makes after backing Bede down for a floater when Syracuse led by two with nine minutes remaining. Teams can’t hyper-focus on Hughes and expect to win, that’s what makes Syracuse’s offense so dangerous right now.
Syracuse’s bench players, Guerrier and Washington, combined to outscore Virginia Tech by 15 with them on the floor in the first half. The Hokies outscored their units by seven in the second half, winning the frame 41-35 overall, but Washington’s minutes helped stop the bleeding — posting a -1 for roughly eight minutes in place of Girard.
Boeheim’s bench shot 3-for-7 with seven points, but Guerrier contributed nine rebounds and Washington an assist and steal to go with more size defensively. Washington helped force three turnovers on Nolley through four possessions midway through the second half that got Hughes going for three straight buckets. Virginia Tech still hit 2-of-5 from three during his second half minutes, but that beat the Hokies’ 6-for-10 stretch to begin the half.
Opponents were shooting 4-for-20 on spot-up jumpers in Washington’s vicinity before Saturday. He’s an intriguing option for a change of pace on both ends even with his limited offensive output.
Guerrier provided rebounding Syracuse sorely needed, only allowing two offensive rebounds over the final 14 minutes with him on the floor compared to four last time these two played. His three-point play put the Orange up by seven with 5:28 remaining. Guerrier even hit eight of his previous 11 free throws. More importantly, Boeheim trusts these two.
Syracuse still struggling to reach shooters
Despite the timely stop to win the game, countless other shots flew out of the hands of Virginia Tech shooters through open airways. Virginia Tech shot 40.5% from three after converting only 27.8% against the Orange in the previous win.
The Orange continue to arrive late to shooters from various positions. Jim said the same after the previous Virginia Tech loss and it only got worse here. Sidibe got benched for this play, and drew enormous ire for not reaching the corner. Hughes misses the play too, but the forwards rose higher in this game against a Hokies team that frequently shoots threes above the arc and on the wings.
Perhaps Guerrier’s recent play opens the door for some Hughes at the two, where he played to close this game and against Niagara. Washington is an option as well. This isn’t all on Girard though, who does have the most limited size defensively on the team. Boeheim allows more points per possession. His offense outweighs that by over 0.11 PPP.
The margin is the same for Girard, who contributes 0.93 PPP and allows 0.82. Perhaps it comes down to getting them both some rest throughout a game, but Boeheim’s shot is too hot to bench in a game like this.
These problems could be mitigated. The personnel on the team makes it difficult to solve completely, especially when teams like the Hokies move the ball so rapidly and get in-between the two layers of the zone. The ACC’s fourth-ranked offense (KenPom) is currently transcending those issues.