Jim Boeheim believes the Syracuse Orange provided evidence late in their 17-14 season that suggested they were not a good three-point shooting team. Buddy Boeheim and Joseph Girard III’s developed in-between and finishing games that helped drive the Orange to a .500 finish in the ACC — in tandem with a historic season from Elijah Hughes.
Hughes couldn’t help them clinch the ACC’s fifth best record among postseason contenders (count Georgia Tech out). Syracuse fell to sixth in the conference after a 69-65 loss to Miami, losing a tiebreaker with NC State and winning one with Notre Dame. Hughes did not play for the final 25 minutes after banging his head.
They’ll play the winner of North Carolina and Virginia Tech on Wednesday at 9 p.m. in the second round of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. They’re in the Louisville bracket.
To the takeaways.
1. “No idea” if Elijah Hughes will join Syracuse at ACC Tournament
Hughes exited the locker room at halftime with the Orange trailing 26-24 and a hoodie wrapped around his head. Big Syracuse letters marked the back of it — the Orange’s postseason hopes covered in doubt.
Syracuse never updated his condition and he did not return. Speculation that Hughes suffered a head injury in a collision with Bourama Sidibe’s knee proved fruitful.
“He got hit,” Jim Boeheim said. “He was a little bit dizzy, little blurry. That’s a tough call. He’s gotten hit in the head 20 times this year. He was a little blurry and he felt he could go, but that was it. It’s not my decision.”
Boeheim did not know if Hughes can play in four days when Syracuse’s postseason begins and didn’t mention any tests or a specific diagnosis. Hughes got up and walked while winching after the collision. He sat on the bench throughout the second half and overtime after shooting 3-for-9 with eight points in the first half.
With Hughes out, the other starters finished the game 4-for-21 from three. Boeheim suggested extra pressure factored into that.
2. The Orange may not be good at a threes
Buddy finished the season 36.8% from three. He shot below 30% since the start of February, as the Orange’s roster fell to 32.9% outside and finished in line with the ACC’s worst three-point shooting team in Miami. The Hurricanes, in turn, started the second half 6-for-15 to take a lead late in regulation.
Jim highlighted what the final statistics proved: an Orange offense that once appeared predicated on the three could not rely on it. They found other ways, such as recent Sidibe involvement, put backs and dribble penetration. Hughes helped a little too.
Coming into Saturday, SU shot 33.5% on catch-and-shoot plays in the half court and 30.8% overall on three-point jump shots. In the half court, those threes represented 67.8% of Syracuse’s shot attempts.
They died by the three. Especially Girard, who thrived finishing in traffic late in the year while struggling at 32.5% from three. He converted one early in the second half. Then the Orange built a 39-33 lead looking inside. Girard found Marek Dolezaj at the rim to start the half, Sidibe gave SU a lead with a put back and Guerrier extended it with another.
As Dejan Vasiljevic (5-for-13 from three) emerged with two straight makes after an 0-for-3 start earlier in the half, Boeheim and Girard missed responses. Guerrier buoyed the offense by putting back Boeheim’s missed three, before the pair drilled two back-to-back.
They didn’t hit an outside jumper for the rest of the game into overtime, starting the extra period 0-for-4 outside. Isaiah Wong (18 points) continued damaging the Orange’s defense.
The offense looked its best taking what Miami gave them at the basket in the closing seconds. Girard hit a tough leaning jumper at the free throw line to force overtime, then forced a three 10 seconds into the shot clock with 37 seconds remaining while the Orange trailed by three. That cost Syracuse the game as Keith Stone ran the other way for an uncontested dunk.
3. Do we need to say anything more about this defense?
The Orange need to see opponents on Boston College’s level to receive consistent defensive play. Syracuse withered in the zone late into the second half again, in a game that appeared to be a good matchup considering Miami’s league-low outside shooting efficiency.
Miami, to put Syracuse’s shooting slog into perspective, matched the Orange’s efficiency on three-point jumpers in the half court. They surpassed Syracuse by committing to the three, seeking the corners and knowing the Orange’s zone would break down eventually.
They did not hit a shot inside the arc for the first 15 minutes of the second half. The two sides combined for 88 points before the Orange allowed Miami 25 points over the final 9:42.
Kameron McGusty received a corner three with nobody in his atmosphere that he missed, while the Orange stuck in the paint couldn’t gain position to keep Rodney Miller Jr. off the boards.
Isaiah Wong hit a three and layup from there, Vasiljevic nailed another then Sidibe, Guerrier and Boeheim all rose on Stone on the right wing, allowing Sam Waardenburg an open dunk. Syracuse led throughout the second half and found itself buried with seconds remaining — again.
Crafty work by Girard forced overtime, where the Orange’s defense let the team’s best effort on the other end down. Jesse Edwards provided decent minutes after Sidibe fouled out. Nothing can make up for Hughes’ absence on the back line though. For all his offensive accolades, he provides Syracuse’s smoothest defensive rotations.
We’ll wait with deserved skepticism as Boeheim announced that Hughes is leaning toward trying the NBA Draft process. Syracuse has at least two more games before then, and hopefully Hughes will have a chance to extend this portion of his career.