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Joe Girard feeds off Brooklyn energy to set new career high in points

When the lights shine the brightest, Joe Girard is there to take the spotlight

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 21 Empire Classic - Syracuse vs Richmond Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

While Joe Girard talked to reporters in the locker room, a tall man walked around looking for Syracuse’s star guard. That man eventually found Girard and didn’t need to say much. The smile on his face did all the talking.

“F*** the interview, Joe,” said Chris McCullough as the former Syracuse forward shared a handshake and hug with Girard.

McCullough was probably just one of many people who needed to share congratulations with Girard after the guard set a new single game career high in points with 31. All of those points were needed as the Syracuse Orange barely defeated the Richmond Spiders in overtime at the Barclays Center 74-71.

Girard scored 21 of his 31 points in the first half, doing so on 9-of-13 shooting. The senior immediately went into takeover mode after Jesse Edwards subbed out with two fouls under six minutes into the game. Syracuse’s center didn’t play the last 13:48 of the first half.

“I knew Jesse was out with foul trouble,” said Girard. “We needed a spark and more of a presence from me.”

He certainly made his presence felt, making all kinds of shots from tough mid-range jumpers to baseline layups. Perhaps the most interesting part of Girard’s career game was that the sharpshooter only made four three-pointers. Syracuse fans are so accustomed to Girard scoring the bulk of his points from beyond the arc, but a more balanced game in the first half against Richmond buoyed the Orange.

What certainly helped was Girard embracing the Brooklyn spotlight. Girard loves playing in the Barclays Center, with double-digit performances in four of his five games in Brooklyn. He averages 17.6 points per game at the Barclays Center.

Girard certainly realizes the Orange advantage that Syracuse has in both major basketball arenas of the five boroughs. And he realizes his role as one of the stars and highest profile names on this season’s Syracuse team. Girard routinely used the opportunity after an Orange scoring play to pump up the crowd. The audience usually roars in response, following the commands of one of Syracuse’s leaders this season.

“We know coming to New York City, we usually have a really big fanbase,” said Girard. “It’s kind of like our second home and we know Orange Nation is always going to show up. Whenever they’re behind us, it always gives us an extra boost.”

Girard isn’t the only one that feels that boost. With such an unusually young team, the Orange freshmen also feed off Girard’s shooting performance and subsequent cues to the Syracuse crowd.

“When he’s on, it’s hard not to get up,” said Judah Mintz.

Even during Girard’s down second half, the guard continued to pump up the crowd, leading to key defensive stops that helped force overtime. Girard continues to evolve his game as his role at Syracuse grows in importance and his responsibilities mount on the court.

He showed in Brooklyn that he can be the focal point of the Orange attack throughout the season.