The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball lost its first game of the season on Tuesday night, falling to Rutgers 79-69 on the road in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
With so much talk surrounding Syracuse’s shot selection and defensive lapses within the 2-3 zone, it might’ve been easy to overlook one of the more concerning areas of the game: rebounding. Glaring in hindsight, Rutgers out-rebounded Syracuse 42-26.
“I thought we set some goals today to do a great job on the backboards and we did that,” Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell said post-game.
Syracuse’s front-court starters grabbed 17 rebounds total. The rest of the team had nine, struggling to rebound against a bigger and stronger team. Rutgers’ 6-11 big man Myles Johnson hauled in 12 boards off the bench, while Ron Harper Jr. and Montez Mathis grabbed seven each.
“The main problem was, a couple times we didn’t get the long rebounds. The [Rutgers] guard got in the lane too many times,” Jim Boeheim said following the loss.
The 2-3 zone is not always conducive to rebounding. What Syracuse gives up on the glass it usually makes up for with tough defense, forcing opponents into missed shots and turnovers. The Orange defense was just okay, Boeheim said, but did force Rutgers into turnovers to make up for the lack of rebounding. That’s the way it’s going to have to be as Syracuse is without Bourama Sidibe for the month of December.
“We did force them into some turnovers, 17 I think. But they’re going to get an advantage on the boards,” Boeheim said. “When we’re with Marek [Dolezaj] at center, we’re going to have problems on the boards against good rebounding teams. That’s just the way it’s going to be. Our young centers are nowhere near ready to play. We see that every day in practice.
“I though John Bol did a pretty good job in there. He moved around, he got a rebound, he made a couple good passes, drew a charge. I thought he did some positive things out there.”
Quincy Guerrier was a bright spot in the loss, scoring 18 points on 3-5 shooting from outside. He made as many 3s against Rutgers as he did in his entire freshman season. Boeheim was pleased with his performance, but still wants Guerrier to crash the offensive glass, something the sophomore did in the previous three games.
“That’s a big part of his game if he can make 3s. Now the the other part is, he fell in love with that, he got zero offensive rebounds tonight because he was out on the 3-point line,” Boeheim said. “He’s got to be able to mix it up, get a couple 3s, but he’s also got to get in and rebound the basketball. He’s had four, five, six offensive rebounds every game and tonight he had zero.”
It’s not all on Guerrier, but he’s Syracuse’s most physical player and best rebounder. While Dolezaj has played center in the past, he’s playing out of position. The guards also have to come in and help defensive rebound, especially after long, missed shots.
With multiple pauses Syracuse has lost practice time and the rotations in the zone aren’t where Boehiem thinks they ought to be at this point. Still, he feels good about what his team has done, all things considered.
After being named to the contract-trace group and quarantining at home, Buddy Boeheim will rejoin his team on Thursday for practice. Today is a mandatory off day. The younger Boeheim will play against Boston College on Saturday. He will help provide offense and depth at guard, but rebounding will remain an area of concern.
Syracuse will have three ACC games before the start of the new year. If recovery has gone smooth, Sidibe could potentially return for the North Carolina game on Jan. 2. Syracuse could really use its main man in the middle.
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