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Illinois 73, Syracuse 44: Orange offense freezes over

At least the Orange remain on brand with 44 points.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange found a lid on the basket of the State Farm Center as the Orange offense failed to get anything going against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Syracuse’s defense held out as long as it could but the Orange couldn’t find any offensive rhythm as Syracuse lost 73-44 to Illinois.

Both teams struggled early as inside presence was established quickly. Jesse Edwards and Coleman Hawkins stayed stout in the paint and denied easy opportunities. As the offensive games shifted towards the outside, Syracuse found the first strike. Early perimeter looks from Chris Bell and Benny Williams gave the Orange an early lead, but inside consistency returned for both squads. Neither team built a big advantage in the first moments of the game.

That slim advantage for both teams carried on throughout the first half. Illinois built a six-point lead at one point thanks to Terrance Shannon Jr. threes, but offense continued to come at a premium for both sides. The Fighting Illini tried to do what most teams have done against the Orange this season and shoot over the zone, but the threes weren’t falling.

What partially keep Syracuse in the game as well was Edwards continuing to dominate the boards. He had 10 rebounds in the first 20 minutes alone, with no one else on the Orange grabbing more than three. Syracuse still trailed by five rebounds in the first half but the deficit could’ve been much more without Edwards down low. He did a great job of staying on the floor as well with only one offensive foul and no defensive fouls in the first half.

However, the Orange couldn’t support Edwards’ defensive effort as the shooting went cold. Six Orange turnovers didn’t help as Syracuse didn’t have a point over the last 4:55 of the first half. The Orange assisted on seven of their eight field goals in the first half but the lack of ball movement and good center play on Edwards limited much of the Syracuse offensive potential.

Illinois could’ve had a much larger lead at the half as well but three pointers were not falling. The Fighting Illini, like many Orange opponents this season, had great open looks but didn’t hit the triples to pull away. Illinois were efficient and careful with the ball, attempting 13 more field goals than the Orange. That helped the Fighting Illini shoot over 50% from inside when they had looks, which happened later in the half. However, the Illinois cold three-point shooting kept the game a seven-point affair at half.

Syracuse returned to bad habits in the second half by trying to brute force offensive opportunities. That came mainly from Judah Mintz doing his best to drive at Illinois frontcourt, who stood up to the task most of the time. Edwards couldn’t do everything on the offensive boards as many Orange trips ended with one-and-done tough shots or turnovers.

Luckily for Syracuse, Illinois continued to struggle as well shooting the ball. The Fighting Illini continued their insistence on shooting over the zone, which would normally work against this Orange defense. However, the shots weren’t falling and Illinois didn’t love the inside shot as much as they probably should have.

However, the Orange still failed to take advantage as the offensive adjustments didn’t come. Mintz continued to drive and attempt to do everything by himself without getting his teammates involved. The Orange offense actually looked efficient as soon as the ball was spread around to guys like Justin Taylor more.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois probably should’ve had a bigger lead as well, but both teams found themselves struggling at the free throw line. Both teams were shooting under 55% from the line at one point halfway through the second half. That’s also credit to the Orange defense, which still held the Illinois offense to under 40% from the floor for the entire game.

The zone defense did its typical job of luring an opponent to shoot the three and the Fighting Illini didn’t attack the inside enough to open up the outside shot. But the second half saw Coleman Hawkins finally play the high post role in the middle of the zone correctly. He started shooting over Edwards and opened up the floor more for Illinois. Hawkins finished with a triple-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

However, no one could get anything going offensively for Syracuse. Joe Girard continued his ice-cold shooting after a career-high against Richmond, failing to make a field goal on three attempts. No one on Syracuse made more and three field goals as the Orange offense failed to hit even open looks.

The Orange have lost their second straight game and move to 3-4 on the season. Up next is not an easy task as Syracuse continues to travel to Notre Dame to take on the Fighting Irish on Saturday at noon.