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Syracuse’s recent shooting slump threatens NCAA Tournament, 3-point record chances

A recent dip in perimeter shooting plagues the Orange.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is on pace to break single-season program records for 3-point shooting, but a recent cold streak is raising uncertainty and — more importantly — hurting the possibility of an NCAA Tournament bid.

On the year, the Orange have made 204 of 588 3-point attempts in 23 games. That’s an average of 8.87 made and 25.57 attempted per game, putting SU on track to break the 2016–17 team’s program record of 8.82 made per game and 2018–19’s record of 24.24 attempted per game (h/t to our own David Stone, who compiled a spreadsheet of SU’s year-by-year 3-point shooting). The program record for team 3s made in a season is 316, set over 37 games in the 2015–16. At its current rate, Syracuse will eclipse that mark in 36 games (should it play in that many, of course).

The trio of Buddy Boeheim, Elijah Hughes, and Joe Girard III has accounted for 193 of SU’s 3 this season. Buddy’s 82 makes lead the ACC and place him sixth nationally. He is also shooting 40.6% from deep. The sophomore guard is projected to break the program’s single-season record for 3s set in 2016-17 by Andrew White III, who made 112 in 34 games while shooting 40.3%. Boeheim is on pace to surpass that in 32 games, which SU will reach in its first ACC Tournament game.

Elijah Hughes has made 62 3-pointers, tied with Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley II for third in the ACC, while shooting 35.7%. Girard is ninth in the conference with 50 and is shooting 33.1%.

“It’s awesome, man,” said Buddy after Saturday’s Wake Forest win, when asked about his and the team’s record-setting trajectory. “I mean, it’s just a testimony to hard work and, you know, always keeping your confidence, having your teammates believe in you, getting you good looks. It’s just really cool to be able to do that, but we’re just focused on winning right now, and when that happens — if it does — it’s really cool. But, you know, [we’re] just gonna keep getting better.”

Wake Forest v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Concerning, though, is that the Orange are shooting 27.6% (40–145) from long range in their last six games. SU had shot 164-for-443 (37%) in its first 17 games. This decline is a result of lesser shooting from Hughes, who has shot 9-of-41 (21.9%) from outside in the last six games. And Girard has shot 10-of-41 (24.4%), while Boeheim has shot 20-for-51, or 39.2%. Prior to their cold streaks, Hughes was 52-for-130 (40%) and Girard was 40-of-110 (36.4%).

“We’re just not shooting well enough to be effective,” said Coach Jim Boeheim after the Wake Forest game. “We have struggled shooting the ball from 3 the last five, six games, and we struggled big-time tonight. That’s a big part of what I think we are, but we’re not making those shots. We got one guy making those shots, so that’s a problem.”

At Syracuse’s current rate of 3-pointers made per contest, it will take 13 more games for the Orange to break the SU season record of 315. But if the Orange shoot like they have the last six games, it would take 17 games and likely require appearances in both the NCAA and ACC tournament championships. That’s hard to imagine in general, and especially so if they’re shooting under 30% from beyond the arc.

Perhaps accumulating heavy minutes over the season is affecting Hughes’ and Girard’s shooting. Hughes averages 38.3 minutes per game, which is most on the team, while Girard averages 32. (Boeheim, however, averages 36.1, second-most on the team.) But Hughes, the ACC’s leading scorer, also picks up each opposing team’s best defender while Girard, a freshman, often struggles against more physical competition and lacks Boeheim’s height to shoot over opponents.

Syracuse is still finding ways to win during its cold stretch, in which the the Orange are 4–2, but inefficient perimeter shooting for a team that takes 44.44% (#BRAND) of its shots from outside is not a recipe for consistent success. With matchups against fellow bubble team N.C. State and two top-10 teams in Florida State and Louisville approaching, the Orange must improve their perimeter shooting immediately if they want to keep a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid alive.