The Syracuse Orange only trailed the Louisville Cardinals by seven points at half. Just 13 minutes out the half, they trailed by 27. The Orange’s usual issues compounded with excessive turnovers and the recent trend of hero shots in their final chance to pitch a last-ditch NCAA Tournament case through a high-profile road win.
Buddy Boeheim’s struggles continued against heavy ball pressure on SU’s screens. Joseph Girard III scored early and faltered late, with 10 misses in the contest. Jim Boeheim lost his cool after Quincy Guerrier’s drive to the rim failed to draw a foul. By then, the Cardinals extended a modest 14-2 run in the second half into a 36-16 romping. Syracuse lost at the rim, in-between and from three, allowing Louisville to escape early struggles and shoot 10-for-24 outside.
The Orange appeared anguished defensively and lost their ability to hang bucket-for-bucket with a team of this caliber later in the game. Despite a 20-point deficit late, Elijah Hughes played 37 minutes. Syracuse plays five more games before the ACC Tournament, and even with long layoffs between games it is worth wondering if the long season and extended minutes for younger players can sustain. Especially where SU will travel for the rest of the season beginning in March.
The Orange are now 4-3 on the road in ACC play and 4-6 away from the Dome.
To the takeaways.
Buddy Boeheim attracting pressure
Defenses reacted to Boeheim late in the season, hedging screens and sending top defenders at him. After a streak where he scored at least 20 points five times in seven games, he started 1-for-4 tonight to extend his shooting slump to 5-for-26.
Boeheim finished 5-for-11, drilling a trio of threes to get back into his scoring stroke after his 0-point outing against Florida State. Syracuse has largely rode Hughes and him as a tandem. With defensive issues and one slipping, Syracuse can’t overcome the scoring deficit that scenario creates. Jim sat Boeheim in the first half for Brycen Goodine for the second straight game where he usually sits Girard.
It’s clear that defenses will let Hughes get his looks so long as Boeheim doesn’t break free off of him. With their disruptive perimeter defenders, Louisville accomplished both. Hughes shot 3-for-13 with 10 points.
In the opening minutes of the game, Syracuse dished out its usual shortcomings. Bourama Sidibe fouled over-the-back and later fouled out for the eighth time this season. The defense allowed Dwayne Sutton, Jordan Nwora and Ryan McMahon — the latter the most costly of all — to put the ball in the basket early.
Defensive lapses began early, as did fouling (Sidibe picked up three, Guerrier two in the first half) and Syracuse even played its recent hit: closing each half poorly. The same issues plaguing the Orange through their recent 1-5 stretch got compounded by 13 turnovers.
Marek Dolezaj and Sidibe gave away the ball within the first minute, Sidibe sat within 70 seconds, then Girard threw two passes away. Howard Washington stood by the scorer’s table, but never entered as Boeheim considered an additional change moments into the game.
Syracuse gave the Cardinals an 11-5 head start before Guerrier and Hughes righted the offense with jumpers and finishes inside. The Orange only average 11.53 giveaways per game. Goodine gave away SU’s 300th through 26 games late in the second. They rank 33rd in the country — third in ACC play — in controlling the ball. When that constant disappeared, Wednesday night was bound to slide off the rails.
Second half meltdown
Through all their misfortune this season, SU didn’t collapse in any half all season quite like they did midway through the second against Louisville. Five minutes after halftime, the Orange remained within single digits, 49-40. Less than 10 minutes later, Chris Mack called timeout with his team ahead 79-52 trying to calm them down after Nwora missed a showcase dunk attempt in transition.
David Johnson planted himself in the middle of Syracuse’s defense and hit Sutton atop the zone for open looks, while combining with Malik Williams underneath in high-low action that the Orange’s interior couldn’t handle. Nwora and Samuell Williamson shot over SU’s perimeter defenders, Steven Enoch and Nwora slashed through it and Williams grabbed six offensive rebounds.
Syracuse played Louisville roughly even on the boards through 20 minutes, eventually losing that battle by nine. The Cardinals overall grabbed 12-of-34 misses back. McMahon drilled four threes and broke Syracuse’s back. Nwora scored 13, as the Orange allowed 90, marking the fourth time they allowed 88 points or more this season.
The Orange’s defense is bad on several layers. Inside, they foul and can’t contest shots or contain rebounds. Sidibe and Dolezaj fouled out with eight defensive rebounds and one block between them. Girard allowed 3-for-4 shooting from three on his side of the zone.
Without defense, Syracuse does not appear to the have the foundation to win games late this season.