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Three takeaways from Syracuse’s last-second loss to Notre Dame

The Orange lost at the buzzer after Joseph Girard III drilled a three and Dane Goodwin arguably fouled him. Whether he did or not, the Orange cost themselves a critical game with brutal stretches of defense and a complete lack of rebounding. Though Guerrier emerged as a positive.

NCAA Basketball: Niagara at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the 2020s will be difficult to top this year. The Syracuse Orange staged two comebacks in each half to take leads by multiple possessions. In the second half, both teams either took leads off ties or changed leads 11 times.

Syracuse held its last lead for nearly four minutes after Prentiss Hubb stepped over Joseph Girard III, who had just fallen over losing a battle for the rebound with him. John Mooney scored inside on the third-chance try, taking a 70-69 lead, which Hubb gave right back with his braggadocios stance.

Girard hit both technical free throws, a mid-range jumper, spot-up three, then another triple after Hubb answered his first. SU led 76-72, despite Mooney’s incessant interior dominance — scoring and on the boards. The Orange lost a critical game with under 34 seconds to go, 88-87, as Quincy Guerrier blocked Mooney inside right back into his hands for a layup.

Notre Dame took a 86-84 lead, Mooney rotated to help on Elijah Hughes’ drive, pushing him just far enough left to miss. Hubb hit his free throws, and after Hughes lost the ball, tried to draw a foul at the three-point line and missed after collecting himself, Girard drilled a three with a few milliseconds remaining in the right wing off Marek Dolezaj’s offensive rebound.

The crowd booed, Jim Boeheim turned to the referee in the handshake line, though later acknowledged himself that he couldn’t see if Dane Goodwin clipped Girard’s arm. Regardless, Syracuse lost failing to rebound the ball, defend the three-point line during an 11-3 Fighting Irish run midway through the second half and converting in crunch time.

Now, the Orange will likely bear the burden of this loss as a bad one, already without a quality victory. SU’s tournament chances likely died in dramatic fashion tonight.

To the takeaways.

Guerrier excellent and earns crunch time minutes

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Guerrier and Brycen Goodine combined to shoot 0-for-7 against Niagara, appearing to end any chance Boeheim had of developing a bench before ACC play began. Robert Braswell’s likely medical redshirt and injuries to Jesse Edwards and Goodine further cemented that.

Whether Bourama Sidibe’s loose grip on the ball in the first half and failure to box out in the second played a role, or Boeheim maintained hope in Guerrier emerging, he arrived brilliantly — and occasionally awkwardly — on Saturday.

Guerrier hit all three shots he attempted, drilled 3-of-4 free throw attempts and added five rebounds and three blocks to his 10 points. In his first spurt of successful college basketball, he also learned the small angles and miscues that can change a game. His block behind Mooney turned into the game-winning basket. Juwan Durham used his fifth foul on Guerrier’s put-back attempt inside to put him at the line and miss a shot in what was ultimately an 88-87 game.

Still, Jim said to expect more from Guerrier, whose recovery block from behind on Mooney underneath set up Hughes to score 10 straight points midway through the first half. That sequence flipped Cuse from down 25-23 to up 32-28 after a pair of Guerrier free throws and a block on Rex Pflueger. Pflueger leaving the game injured and Durham fouling out made this one hurt even more.

To close the first half, he pulled up from near the right corner and drilled a three off the backboard after going 2-of-16 to start the year. In the second, he finished inside with a slam as the defense creeped up on Buddy Boeheim getting screened by Dolezaj. He aided Boeheim’s three-pointer the play before with a handoff to tie the game at 67.

Guerrier will play more, but like with Buddy, Jim has to weigh the reward and downsides to having Dolezaj out there at center. Dolezaj was excellent, 6-of-13 with 13 points and 10 rebounds, though as we’ll see rebounding and interior play decided this game.

Boeheim’s offense worth more than defense — for now

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Saturday, Boeheim posted one point per possession offensively and allowed 0.96 PPP on defense. It exemplified the production that boosted him among the top-five most efficient three-point shooters in the ACC through December while allowing threes over his head in rotation again and again.

That bad side reared its head again against Notre Dame. The Irish took off on an 11-3 run over four minutes midway through the second half. Hubb sat on the left wing, several feet behind the three-point line and received two simple swing passes to his spot while Boeheim sat inside the arc. Boeheim’s three helped stymie the run, and he scored 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting in the game, but that sequence drilled SU and forced another monumental Hughes run to get back in a 64-56 game.

Boeheim allowed nine points on 3-for-9 shooting defensively, Notre Dame shot 2-of-7 for six points and only got two unguarded looks over Girard’s zone while he scored 20 on offense. It marked an improvement for the duo, though showed the dangers of running them for 40 and 34 minutes respectively. Howard Washington held the Irish to 1-for-3 shooting in his six first-half minutes.

Rebounding costs Orange the game

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

SU ranks 304th in the country with a 69.6 defensive rebounding percentage. Mooney feasted Syracuse’s interior for six offensive rebounds, including the game-winning put-back. Goodwin had a critical one of his own late. Girard’s spat with Hubb stemmed from their battle over what was about to be a third-chance finish for the Irish. Overall, Notre Dame hauled in a ridiculous 19 rebounds on its 38 misses.

Boeheim berated Sidibe, calling a timeout to pull him midway through the half after Mooney broke free to take three jumpers and hit two. His second and final pull from the game stemmed from allowing Goodwin’s put-back and fouling him in the process. Sidibe grabbed five offensive boards himself in the first five minutes of the game, but he failed to pull in a single defensive rebound in 23 minutes of play.

It’s not all on Sidibe. Girard and Boeheim struggle to get inside and compete when he and the forwards are pulled to the corners — adding to their defensive liabilities. Though it starts with a solid interior, as Mooney showed with his 14 boards.