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Syracuse 85, Bryant 84: Orange barely scrape past Bulldogs in season opener

Good luck explaining that game

NCAA Basketball: Bryant at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn’t ideal.

The Syracuse Orange returned to the hardwood on Friday to take on the Bryant Bulldogs in the season opener for both teams. However, a mixture of a lack of practice and old, bad habits caught up with the Orange as Syracuse looked flat to start the season. SU did just enough to win 85-84 over the Bulldogs in the Carrier Dome, although it was far from pretty.

Syracuse started slow, which was probably expected after only practicing on Thursday after the team shut down practices due to coronavirus protocols. An early switch to the full court press forced some turnovers by Bryant and allowed the Orange to settle into the game with a couple of scores.

Bryant also established some offensive momentum in the first half with a barrage of three pointers. The guard seemed to over-rotate at the top of the zone which left Bulldog players open for easy threes. Jim Boeheim needed to rotate guys in and out frequently in an attempt to find the best defensive lineup.

The only person who could match Bryant initially was Alan Griffin. The Illinois transfer lived up to the billing as his smooth shooting stroke kept ‘Cuse within striking distance even as the Bulldogs continued to hit from range. All nine of Griffin’s first half points came from distance. He ended up with 14 points and 12 rebounds, including a thunderous dunk in the second half.

NCAA Basketball: Bryant at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Marek Dolezaj also provided the majority of the interior influence for Syracuse offensively. The senior looked aggressive as he put the ball on the floor and attacked the basket frequently. He showed off a nice floater as the Slovakian did it all for Syracuse inside the paint on offense. Dolezaj stuffed the stat sheet with 20 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and five steals.

But Bryant continued to dominate Syracuse seemingly in all facets of offense. The Bulldogs got easy buckets both in half-court and transition settings. Everyone seemed confused on their assignments at all times. Losing Bourama Sidibe to a left-leg injury early in the game seemed to drastically affect Syracuse’s ability to defend the paint, and the guards continued to struggle defending the three-point ball. Bryant was 9-for-19 from three point range in the first half.

The second half didn’t start well for Syracuse as laziness on both sides of the ball started to creep in. The Orange rebounded well in the first half but the positioning problems as well as the lack of Sidibe allowed Bryant to secure some easy second-chance points. Syracuse also shot fairly early in the shot clock and no one showcase any willingness to shoot inside the paint other than Dolezaj.

Meanwhile, Bryant continued to take advantage of Syracuse weak presence at the top of the zone as the Bulldog threes continued to rain down. Chris Childs took full advantage of the defensive liabilities from Syracuse, finishing as Bryant’s leading scorer with 18 points.

Syracuse’s offensive adjustment came from Quincy Guerrier. The Canadian put himself in good positions in the paint for easy dunks and scores as Syracuse slowly worked its way back into the game after Bryant started to miss some threes. Guerrier eventually finished with 15 points and 12 boards.

The Orange finally got some offensive help from Buddy Boeheim as well as he heated up in the second half. The junior looks poised to take over the bulk of the scoring lost by Elijah Hughes’s departure to the NBA. Boeheim led Syracuse with 23 points.

It bears mentioning that Joseph Girard III had a woeful game as well. His defensive problems didn’t help Syracuse cause at defending the three and he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn for three-quarters of the game. Girard only hit two threes for six points on the afternoon.

Luckily for Syracuse, the Orange did just enough as Bryant went cold on offense in the second half. After shooting 52.8% from the floor in the first half, the Bulldogs only converted 34.3% of their field goals in the second half. The additional offensive contributions helped the Orange shoot 51.7% from the floor in the second half.

Who knows how much the program shutdown due to COVID-19 affected the Orange. What is clear is that the defensive issues from last season seemed to have carried over to this season. Too much inconsistency on offense didn’t help Syracuse’s cause either. There’s clearly still a lot of work that needs to be done for the Orange in order to contend with the majority of teams in the ACC.

On the bright side, it was a win. However, there aren’t many moral victories that Syracuse can take from that game.