This year’s Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team is still on track to break the program record for 3-pointers attempted per game. The Orange currently put up 24.85 a game, which would break the previous record of 24.24 set last season.
But on Saturday against Georgia Tech, the No. 32 defense on KenPom, the Orange attempted a season-low 14 shots from beyond the arc and made just five of them. Elijah Hughes was 2-for-6, Buddy Boeheim 1-for-3, and Joe Girard III 2-for-5. The previous low in attempts came when SU shot 6-of-17 against Virginia Tech on Jan. 7.
The Orange started the season 164-for-443 (37%) from deep in their first 17 games, per ESPN, forming an identity as an elite shooting squad making up for its lack of inside threats. But teams have since adjusted their defensive gameplans, increasing perimeter defensive pressure on Hughes, Boeheim, and Girard III. In their last 10 games, the Orange are 62-for-228 (27.2%), no longer on track to break the program record for makes in a season.
”Teams are figuring out that we shoot a lot of 3s, and we make a lot, so we kind of just stopped it,” said Girard III after the Georgia Tech game. “We got a lot of guys who can get in the lane and finish, get fouled, so that’s just kind of what happened. When they’re taking something away, you gotta counteract with it.”
As a result, Syracuse attacked the basket against the Yellow Jackets and shot 18-for-37 (48.6%) inside the arc. Most of that success came in the second half, in which the Orange shot 14-of-19 on 2-pointers.
Boeheim, guarded by Georgia Tech’s Jose Alvarado, said this was more of a reaction to GT than a recent shift in the offensive gameplan.
“That was just how the defense was playing us,” he said. “Alvarado is a tough defender. He was on my hip every time I got the ball. It was easier for me to try to make a play, go by him. ... That’s how teams are adjusting. They’re playing out on our shooters. We just were really efficient in the second half, and it makes it tougher for teams to guard us now that we can score inside and outside.”
Hughes, rather, said it was a little of both.
”Coach wanted me to get in there,” he said. “He knew that they couldn’t stop me. I got in the lane, or I’d also make a play. They couldn’t guard the drive, really, so we just tried to expose them there.”
With SU players driving to the hoop, more free throws are coming for the Orange, who now stand at third in ACC play in attempts. Against Georgia Tech, SU shot 28-for-36 (77.8%), just short of the season-high 37 attempts against Oklahoma State and Duke. SU’s performance at the free throw line was highlighted by Marek Dolezaj’s 12-for-12 and Hughes’ 8-for-10. The Yellow Jackets, who average the second-most team fouls per game in ACC play, committed 26, tying a season-high.
In his postgame presser, Coach Jim Boeheim suggested that recent SU’s 3-point decline is more indicative of the team’s abilities than a temporary slump.
“We’re still not making a lot of 3s,” said Coach Boeheim. “I think that’s just who we are, really. We’re not making those.”
With four regular season games remaining and zero margin for error in the ACC Tournament, Syracuse must continue to adapt to the defensive focus on its shooters. Considering that the Orange shoot 49.6% on 2-pointers and 77.2% from the line in ACC play, driving to the basket seems to be a more efficient strategy for this young team.
“We have to get to the paint and try to get inside and score in there. That’s what we’ve been trying to do: get to the foul line, get in the paint,” said Coach Boeheim.
“When the ball goes in the basket, the game’s a lot easier,” he later added. “ … When we make shots, we’re better.”