After a rough 76-71 Saturday night loss to the FSU Seminoles at home, Syracuse looked to bounce back against the Clemson Tigers and got the job done beating their ACC foe 91-78 in the Dome.
Syracuse was led behind the performances of Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard, who combined for 48 total points, and Jesse Edward’s double-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. The Orange shot an efficient 53.4% from the field and 40.9% from beyond the arc while holding the Tigers to 49.2% and 29.6% from the field and three-point line. While the win was dominant, there continue to be some specific areas of weakness that are repeatedly hurting Syracuse’s overall performance during games.
Here are three takeaways from the 91-78 win:
Inability to get stops
Despite a strong offensive start to the game, Syracuse found themselves down by one to the Clemson Tigers at the half (40-39).
Syracuse found themselves in this position because of the same flaw that has cost them many games so far this season: their defense. While the Orange did hold the Tigers to the lower field goal and three-point percentage, Clemson narrowed the Orange's lead through second-chance points and points off of Syracuse's 6 first-half turnovers. The Tigers managed to score a combined 12 points through these two categories alone by the end of the first half which ultimately got them back into this game. Syracuse also struggled to defend against Clemson's strong playmaking, failing to contest shots when necessary and allowing too many easy baskets.
In the second, while scoring with more volume, the Tigers were more efficient from the field shooting 9-17 through the first 11 minutes. However, Clemson shot poorly from three only making 2-9 attempts from distance. However, the imposing defensive presence of Jesse Edwards in the second half created some problems for Clemson, and was not able to make the right adjustments before time expired. Even though Syracuse walked away with the W tonight, this spotty defense needs to be adjusted in order to close out future games when our offense might not be shooting the way they anticipated.
Don't leave Joe Girard open
If you didn’t already know, Joe Girard is an absolute bucket from almost anywhere on the court. He creates his own shot well off the dribble and can always cash a spot-up shot if needed. I don't know if Saturday’s loss to FSU left a sour taste in his mouth or not, but Girard came into tonight's game with dangerous intentions.
He connected on his first 2 three-pointers of the night from well beyond distance within the first four minutes of the contest, helping Syracuse to an early 11-6 lead. He also connected on a nasty turnaround jumper from the free-throw line with a defender in his face for his third bucket of the game. He also helped set up some scoring opportunities for his teammates with his willingness to pass the ball. In eight minutes, Girard had 8 points and a rebound on a perfect 3-3 shooting. By the end of the half, Girard had 8 points on 3-4 shooting with three assists and 2 turnovers, missing only one shot, a contested layup in the closing seconds of the half.
In the opening 15 seconds of the second half, Girard hit a three-pointer from the corner to bring his point total up to 11 on the night. A few minutes later, following 3 consecutive free throws after drawing a foul beyond the arc, Girard found his groove making two more shots including a pull up a three-pointer in a defender's mouth for his 21st points of the night. When the final buzzer sounded, Girard finished with 23 points, 1 rebound, 5 assists, and 4 steals on 6-9 shooting from the field, 4-5 from beyond the arc, and a perfect 7-7 from the line. While Girard playing consistently at this level might not be a mainstay, tonight his shooting was one of the key factors in a dominant conference win.
Strong playmaking leads to better shot selection
One of the biggest weaknesses for the Orange this season has been their inability to make the extra pass on possessions to help create an open look. This season so far Syracuse is tied for 67th in the nation in assists per game with 15.6 a night. To say the least, this team's strong suit has not been through their playmaking but through their strong spot-up shooting and players' ability to create their own shot opportunities.
In order to win against a hungry Clemson Tigers team, Syracuse needed to find other ways to score in a meaningful way. Tonight, the strong playmaking came through. While Syracuse in the first half only had 8 assists, their play-making expands far beyond the box score. Players were making the extra pass to make good plays into great ones. We also saw almost every member of Syracuse’s starting five play selfless basketball, helping their teammates score in the most efficient ways possible.
The Orange were efficient in the first half, shooting 14-26 from the field and 6-9 from three-point range. Through the first 9 minutes of the second half, Syracuse outscored the Tigers 23-17 on 8-14 shooting from the field and 2-5 shooting from beyond the arc also collecting 3 more assists. The difference for the Orange in the second was their ability to create scoring off of second-chance opportunities, collecting 8 total points through the opening 10 minutes. When the game was all said and done, the Orange finished with 13 assists as a team.
While assists do not indicate strong overall playmaking from an entire team on the stat sheet, Syracuse played some of the most selfless basketball of their entire season tonight and walked away with a win because of it. Can this happen consistently? One will have to wait and see. But let's hope tonight serves as a launch for what could potentially be an even more efficient offense.