Close, but no cigar.
After being up by as much as 11 points and leading most of the way, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (3-2) ultimately fell in overtime 76-69 against the St. John’s University Red Storm (6-0) in the 2022 Empire Classic Final.
Judah Mintz shot out of the gate hot for the Orange with 16 points to put Syracuse up 35-29 at halftime. A Joe Girard jumper gave the Orange a 47-37 lead during the second half, but with about 15 minutes left to play, the train fell off the tracks for Syracuse’s offense.
SJU played to its strengths of physicality and defensive toughness, forcing the Orange into empty possessions, way too many turnovers, poor shot selection, and wasted opportunities. In particular, Girard couldn’t generate any offense for Syracuse throughout the game, while Jesse Edwards struggled with foul trouble and didn’t get hot toward the end of the second half.
Joel Soriano (19 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks), Andre Curbelo (23 points and 6 assists), and David Jones (18 points) led the way for St. John’s in a defensive slugfest. Syracuse shot just 39% from the field on 67 attempts, while SJU didn’t fare much better with only 40% shooting overall.
With the win, SJU has now beaten Syracuse for the fourth-straight time.
After coming up just short in Brooklyn, here are the three biggest takeaways from Syracuse’s overtime loss to St. John’s University.
Takeaway #1: The give-and-take game with Joe Girard
By far and away, Girard’s (unfortunate) disappearing act against SJU was the dominant headline for Tuesday night’s game. Against Richmond, JG3 torched the Spiders with a career-high 31 points on 50% shooting, including 4/11 from downtown. Against St. John’s, the final stat line was anything but pretty for Girard: 4 points, 1/10 shooting, 0/4 from three, 4 assists, and 3 turnovers in 38 minutes.
Give credit where credit is due. SJU pressured Girard along the three-point line the entire night, denying any clear movement off the ball or passes along the perimeter. His only jumper was in a transition opportunity. Other than that, he was a non-factor on offense for Syracuse. In the halfcourt, the Red Storm were willing to let anybody not named Joe Girard put points on the board.
Heading into this season, the big concern for Girard is how he can adjust now that he’s a known microwave scorer. Last year, the Orange had more polished, experienced scorers. Throughout this season, JG3 will be tasked with greater ball-handling, playmaking, and self-creation responsibilities. It helps that Judah Mintz looks to be more ready-made to at least help out in that department, but he’s still young and can only do so much.
As always with Girard, it’s a game of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with how much he can produce in a given night. When the shot is going, he’s one of the most dangerous shooters in the NCAA. When that fails, it could spell catastrophe for the Orange.
Takeaway #2: Mounir Hima gives the Orange backup center insurance
Heading into its matchup against SJU, the big fear was Jesse Edwards getting into early foul trouble. As predicted, Edwards played in just 26 minutes on the night (including overtime).
Fortunately for Syracuse, backup center Mounir Hima gave the Orange a much-needed spark plug off the bench.
In a game centralized on sluggish offense and aggressive defense, Hima finished the contest with 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 blocks in just 19 minutes of action. With Edwards sidelined for nearly the entire first half, Hima gave the Orange shot-blocking, size down low, and a mostly-good defensive presence in the paint.
Hima is still getting his sea legs under him and, like Edwards, he also struggled with foul trouble toward the end of the second half. With that said, Hima’s energy was absolutely necessary against SJU’s physical presence down low.
Last season, when there was no Edwards, there were big problems for the Orange. Hima can’t solve everything, but he sure is giving Syracuse quality insurance that the program really didn’t have at all in 2021-2022.
Takeaway #3: Syracuse’s half-court offense shoots the team in the foot
Early turnovers and easy fastbreak opportunities powered Syracuse's offense in the first half, even with Girard’s struggles. But once SJU cut down on its own sloppy play, the Orange were forced into more half-court situations.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t pretty.
Syracuse lost the possession battle in the second half. The Orange took 39 field goal attempts in the first half, but just 28 in the game’s second half and overtime periods. You could point to Syracuse’s starters playing big minutes and, ultimately, getting too tired. Benny Williams played 45 minutes, while Mintz (41) and Girard (38) were on the court nearly the entire game.
But, at the end of the day, the lack of scoring threats outside of the Mintz-Girard-Edwards trio is a concern. Williams and Chris Bell made some timely jumpers, but we’re going to need a larger sample size to see if both can keep up their jump-shooting performances. Quadir Copeland isn’t a threat from the outside, while Symir Torrence is an experienced slasher but not much of a shooter.
Syracuse shot just 3/16 from three, and the team played right into the hands of SJU’s game plan: put pressure high on the perimeter and force the Orange to make difficult shots from within the three-point line. Without elite personnel that can space the floor, that will be a challenge Syracuse will need to overcome as this season continues.
The Orange will look to get back in the win column on Saturday afternoon when the team will take on Bryant (5-1) back in the JMA Wireless Dome.
It was a heartbreaking and sloppy game, but against a physical team, the Orange held its own. There’s still plenty of season left to go.