WASHINGTON — The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team headed into the halftime locker room with a 10 point lead over old Big East rival Georgetown. The Orange looked in control. All it had to do was close out the final 20 minutes to cruise to victory.
But Patrick Ewing made an adjustment at the intermission. The Georgetown head coach went to a small ball lineup and inserted Aminu Mohammed in the middle of the Syracuse zone.
“They just went small, got it to Mohammed in the middle and he really hurt us in there,” Jimmy Boeheim said after the game.
It was a move that allowed Georgetown to score 45 second half points on 14-25 (56%) shooting from inside the arc. Mohammed scored 20 points in the second half to lead his team to a win.
“We’re struggling a lit bit on the defensive end. We’ve got to be more efficient on offense. The first half we were. The second half we weren’t.” Jim Boeheim said in the post-game press conference.
The Orange offense struggled in the second half to be sure, shooting just 13-36 (36.1%). But the Syracuse zone has been a major weakness all season. Syracuse ranks No. 160 in the country in KenPom defensive efficiency with an adjusted defense of 101.0.
Syracuse is mixing in a 1-1-3 zone along with its traditional 2-3 zone this season. The defense looked to take a step forward in a road win at Florida State and a neutral court loss to Villanova with the 1-1-3, but it took a step back against Georgetown on Saturday.
“I think we can get a lot better. We’re still kind of improving every day, adjusting every day. (We can) definitely can do a lot better on that end. I think we’ve gotten better since the beginning of the year already and we’re going to keep building,” Jimmy said.
“I think we have guys who work hard and do the right things,” Cole Swider added. “We’re just going to get back to practice and get better at it. Coach Boeheim is not going to not make adjustments. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
In the first half, Georgetown’s Mohammed said he had open shots but felt like he missed them. In the halftime locker room his teammates told him that he was going to get the ball in the second half.
“In the first half I had my chances and missed them. So I was kind of mad at myself,” Mohammed said.
Then in the second, Mohammed scored right away on an old fashioned three point play. He followed it up with an open three and buried it which made it a close contest the rest of the way.
“We made a couple of adjustments to keep it out of the middle. Jesse started the game and just forgot what he was doing on defense. I don’t know why he would do that. There was no reason for him to do that,” Boeheim said.
With Georgetown playing small, Syracuse tried to take advantage on other end. Jimmy Boeheim scored on a few occasions but the Orange didn’t score as much as they would’ve liked.
“We have to score. We’re not stopping people,” Jim Boeheim said.
Instead, with Syracuse unable to take advantage on the other end of the floor and failing to get the defensive stops necessary down the stretch, the small ball move favored the Hoyas. Mohammed finished with 23 points, leading his team to victory, including an exchange of words with Buddy Boeheim.
“I was just talking to him a little bit. He’s Buddy Boeheim. I’m Aminu Boeheim. That’s basically what I was saying,” Mohammed said.
For now it’s back to the lab for a Syracuse club with a middling 5-5 record. The Orange will work on improving its defense, tightening up rotations, attempting to do a better job of locating shooters and communicating effectively. How much the defense improves or does not improve will determine the fate of Syracuse’s season.