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Lack of guard depth comes back to bite Syracuse

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Syracuse is down to just two scholarship guards with Symir Torrence out.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team came into the season with just three scholarship guards on its roster and the squad suffered a tough blow when junior guard Symir Torrence sprained a knee ligament in the road loss to Duke last Saturday.

The injury sidelined Torrence against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. Down to just two scholarship guards, Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim would see an even heavier minutes log against the Panthers. The two guards combined to play 76 of 80 available minutes. Cole Swider played the top of the zone in those other four.

Girard has played mostly well this season, scoring in double-figures in 13 of Syracuse’s 20 games while leading the league in 3-point shooting (41.7%). But he had an off night on Tuesday, held to a season low 3 points on 1-9 shooting. It was part of a broader offensive struggle for Syracuse as the Orange have had a tough time scoring the ball in its last two games. Girard has been held in check in both of those contests.

Jim Boeheim said his point guard is hard to figure out this year and he doesn’t know why he’s struggling lately.

“You don’t need to ask me that question because it’s obvious he’s not playing well,” Boeheim said. “There’s nothing I can do about it. He’s got to do something about it.”

Girard scored 23 points against Clemson just three games ago, but over the last two games has been held to 4-22 shooting, including 1-15 from three. Against Pittsburgh he tied a season-high six turnovers.

“They put a tough defender on him, tough, quick guy who works really hard,” Buddy Boeheim said. “Joe got some good looks, just wasn’t able to convert. (He) had a couple sloppy turnovers but it’s on all of us obviously and he’s going to be better. We know that.”

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Not all of that is on Girard. Losing Torrence forces the two starting guards to play the majority of the game — Buddy Boeheim played all 40 minutes against Pittsburgh — and the team also suffers from not having a playmaker out there. The loss of Torrence forces Girard to be the only ball-handler because, well, Syracuse doesn’t have another on its roster.

That, but it also hurts because Torrence had come on of late. He offers an up-tempo pace and relieves Girard of primary ball-handling duties, allowing him to work off-ball.

Over his previous four games, Torrence scored 17 points, dished out 13 assists and grabbed five rebounds in limited time. In that stretch he had only three turnovers. He played a season-high 25 minutes at Duke and didn’t turn it over once.

Boeheim said Syracuse needs Girard and Cole Swider to be contributors to be successful. Buddy Boeheim was the only player to score in double-figures against the Panthers.

“No one else is doing anything,” The head coach said. “I’m disappointed in Joe because he just missed a couple early and he just, (they) really got into him. I mean he’s missed shots before. But generally if he gets off to a bad start he’s not playing through it, generally. When he gets off to a good start he gets going. You can’t do that. You’re going to have bad starts.”

Boeheim said Buddy can’t play point for more than a few minutes. Thus, leaving the onus on Girard to bring the ball up the floor and facilitate the offense. Torrence had been a difference maker for a struggling team. But for now, Syracuse might be without him “for a while.”

“Joe was out of it and I thought he would take charge,” Boeheim said. “I though he would say, ‘Okay, Symir is not here. I’ve got to do something.’ And he didn’t do that. It was very disappointing.”