PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team fell to the VCU Rams 67-55 in its first round game in the Battle 4 Atlantis. VCU, just 2-2 on the season prior to Wednesday night, came into the contest as the No. 15 ranked team in Ken Pom defensive efficiency. It stymied the Orange perimeter attack with a full-court press and chased Syracuse’s shooters off the 3-point line in the half court.
Syracuse was held to 5-23 shooting from outside, a season low in attempts from range. But the Orange were also hurt by not having its starting center for much of the night. Junior center Jesse Edwards played only 15 minutes before fouling out. He finished his night with a -3 in plus/minus, the best (least worst?) on the team of anyone who played more than five minutes.
“Losing Jesse hurt us,” Jim Boeheim said post-game. “He’s got to be able to play without being in foul trouble.”
Edwards is Syracuse’s best option at center. The team might be more reliant on the big from the Netherlands than originally thought.
“Jesse’s got to be in the game for us to be successful,” Boeheim continued.
VCU isn’t a exactly great 3-point shooting team so it’s no surprise it only took 18 of its 57 shots from beyond the arc. They worked the ball into the high-post, made Syracuse defenders chase on the perimeter and eventually and found opportunities at the rim. Edwards was left to foul in some situations. Syracuse, Boeheim says, will concede driving lanes and opportunities in the paint the way it’s currently playing defense.
“They’re going to get in the paint the way we’re playing. We’re not doing a great job of keeping it out of the paint. Teams have been very patient in getting it in there. He’s going to be challenged. He’s got to learn to play,” Boeheim said.
Edwards picked up two quick fouls in the second half and was forced to sit with four fouls with 15:41 remaining. Syracuse led 44-42 at that juncture. VCU then went on a 13-3 run with Edwards on the sideline. He didn’t return until the 6:54 mark. Instead of playing backup center Frank Anselem, Boeheim elected to put his eldest son in the middle who finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Orange don’t want to play small if it doesn’t have to.
“They got a couple layups on me in there. I can do a better job on those. But we work on it once in a while,” Jimmy Boeheim said on playing center. “Obviously losing Jesse was a tough blow for us.”
The Syracuse offense is boosted with Jimmy at center, but the defense struggles. VCU was able to get offensive rebounds, tip-ins and dunks without a true center to ward off players crashing the glass or for dunks at the tin.
“It helps our offense a little bit. But obviously defensively Frank wasn't giving us a lift in there,” Boeheim said.
Instead, Syracuse played small. It fought on the glass and won the rebounding battle 43-38 but without Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse needs Edwards to play at center. Jimmy is best at the forward, not center.
“Again, we don’t really want to play him there,” Boeheim finished.