If you were looking for a defensive battle, this was your game to watch.
It was a clash of the orange, with the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team taking on the 16th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini on the road.
Syracuse (3-3) looked to avoid its third-straight loss of the season after back-to-back defeats against St. John’s and Bryant, while Illinois (5-1) was looking to secure a win before hitting the road to take on 22nd-ranked Maryland and 2nd-ranked Texas.
Neither offense was to be found in the first half, with each program shooting lower than 33% from the field, highlighted by Illinois shooting just 5/24 (21%) from three.
In the second half, Syracuse’s offense couldn’t break the cold streak from the field, while Illinois slowly pulled away courtesy of some great ball movement and improved off-the-ball shooting from three.
After trailing by just eight points at one point, Syracuse fell into an offensive drought, with the Fighting Illini going on a 22-8 run to surge ahead and secure the double-digit win for Illinois.
Syracuse (3-4) loses its third-straight game of the year, falling 73-44 to the Fighting Illini, while Illinois (6-1) continues its superb start to its season.
Here are three takeaways from the Orange’s 29-point loss to the Fighting Illini:
Takeaway #1: The math never worked in the Orange’s favor
Syracuse’s defense looked solid in the first half, but at the end of the day, Illinois was getting all the good looks in the world. Coach Boeheim packed the paint with the 2-3 zone, daring the Fighting Illini to make their jumpers.
In the first half, the strategy worked, with Illinois shooting just 21% from three on 24 attempts.
In the second half, however, the Fighting Illini’s shooting reverted back to the mean, and once the threes started falling, the Orange had no hope once Illini forced things inside. Illinois forward Coleman Hawkins finished the night with a 15-10-10 triple-double, serving as a critical interior presence that imploded the 2-3 zone from the inside out.
It didn’t help that offensively, Syracuse didn’t stand a chance. Joe Girard suited up for just 20 minutes in the contest and was completely shut down due to Illinois’ switching defense on the perimeter. Judah Mintz struggled to slash to the rim because of the Fighting Illini’s size down low, forcing him into too many contested shots and forced passes into traffic. Not a single player scored in double-figures for Syracuse, and ultimately the lack of a competent offense (literally) shot the Orange out of this game.
Takeaway #2: ‘Ol reliable Jesse
With the Orange in a little bit of a downward spiral, it’s still good to see Jesse Edwards shine on the court. His improvement between his first two seasons in the NCAA to his last two is exponential. He’s a lot more comfortable on offense with isolation post-up opportunities, and he’s now had two back-to-back great performances as a rim protector and rebounder.
Against Illinois, Edwards finished with 9 points, 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 steals as Syracuse’s lone statistical bright spot. So far this season, Edwards is averaging 14.5 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 2.7 BPG on 66% shooting from the field. As of Tuesday night, Edwards ranks first in the ACC in blocks per game and third in rebounds per game.
Even if all else fails, Edwards’ production continues to be a certainty. Especially in the first half, he was the only player in the rotation keeping the Orange’s winning hopes on life support.
Takeaway #3: What’s going on with Judah and Joe?
As with any young team, the more time and reps on the court, the better.
For the first time this season, Mintz played on the road against a highly-talented, physical team in a high-intense environment. Yes, Mintz flashes all the tools and upside to be a great player, but we have to understand that he’s also young and will need time to grow throughout this season.
Sheesh, Judah— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) November 30, 2022
For the game, Mintz finished with 9 points on 3/16 shooting, including 5 assists and 4 turnovers. It was a tough night for him, and Illinois took advantage of his lack of a reliable jump shot and his one-dimensional, fast-paced speed.
Down the road, Mintz will get better as a playmaker, especially with reading defenses and learning to switch gears. He’s an athletic player, but as the Fighting Illini proved, he’s still got tons of room for improvement. But, the upside is there.
As for Girard, the diagnosis is simple: he can’t generate his own shot on the ball, and when he’s off the ball, defenses are game-planning to deny him on easy catch-and-shoot looks. Girard took just three shots in this game, disappearing for long stretches of time. Defensively, he’s average at best for his position, and he’s decent but not reliable enough of a shot-creator for his teammates.
It’s been tough going for Girard, who has now produced just 4 points on a combined 2/25 shooting from the floor and 1/13 from behind the line in Syracuse’s last three games.
There’s hope that maybe after the Orange’s game against Notre Dame, Girard could finally get going against Oakland and Georgetown, who are both struggling to begin the season.
At the same time, it’s tough to see where JG3 goes from here. He has to step up, especially if the Orange keep losing the turnover margin and points off turnovers battle. Symir Torrence has a limited offensive ceiling, and Mintz can only do so much.
Syracuse will look to bounce back in its first ACC game of the year against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-1) on the road.
This game will be a bit of a pill to swallow for Syracuse fans.