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Syracuse men’s basketball: three takeaways from the 73-72 loss to Bryant

The Orange lose in a heartbreaking finish at home.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse Orange Tip Off Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Almost, but not quite.

After trailing against the Bryant Bulldogs 40-29 at halftime, the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team surged back in the second half, taking its first lead with just three minutes left in the game.

And then, Bryant’s Sherif Gross-Bullock made the game-winning layup with just 0.8 seconds left on the clock to secure a 73-72 win for the Bulldogs (5-1) over the Orange (3-3).

Despite a second-half surge by Syracuse, it wasn’t a pretty game for either team. Both programs combined to shoot 47 free throws in what became a physical battle throughout. Tensions culminated early in the first half with a confrontation between Syracuse’s Judah Mintz and Bryant’s Doug Edert.

Play stopped for 15 minutes, with both Mintz and Edert ejected, as well as two other Bulldogs players and three assistant coaches for the Orange.

Heading back on the road, Syracuse will have a lot to think about after this one.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s game between Syracuse and Bryant.

Takeaway #1: The Rubik's cube Syracuse (finally) solved

I’ll give credit to the announcers for the analogy, but Bryant’s defense put the Orange’s offense in disarray right from tip-off. The Bulldogs’ stuck with a 1-3-1 zone, taking advantage of Syracuse’s lack of outside shooting from its perimeter players. The results bore out in the individual number for Syracuse. Jesse Edwards was held without a field goal in the first half, Joe Girard shot 1/8 in the game’s first 20 minutes, and the Orange had multiple stretches of going scoreless.

Coach Boeheim tried out different lineups, none of which really had success against an aggressive Bulldogs defense geared toward making the Orange score in isolation, denying off-the-ball shooters, packing the paint, and leaving the corners wide open.

Losing Judah Mintz in the middle of the first half via ejection meant Syracuse was without its premier slasher and on-the-ball creator. With Benny Williams limited due to illness (he only suited up for eight minutes) and Edwards in foul trouble, coach Boeheim went deep into his rotation, and ultimately the team couldn’t get any chemistry going with the constant lineup in flux.

Then the gears shifted in the second half. Syracuse moved the ball and cut down on who was playing. Edwards finally got going, finishing the game with 12 points and 21 rebounds, the most by a Syracuse player since 2016.

But ultimately, Bryant’s physicality in the paint led to one too many extra possessions and second-chance opportunities.

Takeaway #2: With Mintz gone, Justin Taylor and Chris Bell shine

You can go on and on about Mintz’s lack of discipline prior to his ejection. He’s still young, and he needs to learn to not take out his frustration on his opponents. That will come with time, and he’ll learn his lesson about Saturday afternoon’s matchup.

Heading into this season, the big question is if Syracuse could maintain what was one of the best scoring offenses in the ACC and NCAA without the service of the Boeheim brothers and Cole Swider. With teams game-planning their defense around denying Girard off the ball, Mintz has had to shoulder a lot of the ball-handling responsibilities. Coach Boeheim certainly thinks he’s deserving of the role.

On the court, the biggest concern for Syracuse is what the offense looks like in the non-Mintz minutes. Outside of Girard, Bryant sagged off every Syracuse guard and dared them to attack the basket. In other words, the Bulldogs put the Orange’s youngsters out of their comfort zone.

Now enter from stage left: Justin Taylor.

After not suiting up against St. John’s University in the Empire Classic, Taylor shined off the bench with 25 points and 3/6 shooting from three in 26 minutes. He (finally) gave the team signs of life as a movement shooter that Bryant’s defense had to gameplan around. That opened the door for Edwards to get going. When the Bulldogs double-teamed both, Chris Bell caught fire in the mid-post with timely jump shots, finishing the game with 14 points on 6/13 shooting.

Offensively, the team struggled across the board outside of getting to the foul line. 13 turnovers and an abominable 6/24 team performance from three couldn’t get the job done against the Bulldogs.

With all this in mind, it was good to see some of Syracuse’s youngsters get going with Mounir Hima and Williams basically out of commission the whole game, Edwards in foul trouble, and Girard struggling for his second-straight game.

And finally, speaking of Girard...

Takeaway #3: Joe Girard career-game curse?

Is it too early to start panicking?

After a career-high 31 points on 12/24 shooting against Richmond, Girard has now combined to score just 4 points on a combined 2/22 shooting from the floor and 1/12 from behind the line.

It hasn’t been pretty for JG3. With the extra attention defenses are giving him, he’s struggling to get good looks across the board. The frustration has led him to take a step back in the flow of the offense or take ill-advised shots when he does have the ball in his hands.

It’s still a bit early, but Girard’s efficiency has plummeted in every major offensive category. It will only get more difficult from here, and it’s tough to see if he can escape from the shooting slump and generally poor play Syracuse fans have seen in two consecutive games.

With the loss to Bryant, Syracuse (3-3) will look to avoid three-straight losses, but it won’t be easy. The Orange will take on the 16th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Illinois currently sits at 5-1 on the season, with its only loss coming against the 5th-ranked Virginia Cavaliers.

For Syracuse fans, this must’ve been a tough pill to swallow.