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Syracuse men’s basketball: the Orange win fourth-straight, squeak by Monmouth 86-71 amid slow start

It’s always the lower-ranked opponents that make things interesting, huh?

NCAA Basketball: Lehigh at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Competing forces struck the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (6-4) in its Tuesday night matchup versus the Monmouth Hawks (1-9). The first of which was out of its control, with nearly the entire Orange fanbase checked out with the Syracuse men’s soccer team defeating the Indiana Hoosiers in penalty kicks in the College Cup Finale thriller.

The Orange were able to defeat Monmouth 86-71, overcoming the slow start with a much better (not necessarily great) second-half performance by the team.

Syracuse looked dazed and confused throughout the first half against Monmouth. Monmouth surged out to a slight lead for nearly half of the game’s first 20 minutes because of the Orange’s slow-reaction, unaggressive defense. Collapses in the Syracuse 2-3 zone led to the Hawks shooting 6/11 from three in the first half, making 57% of its shots in all. The Hawks also took advantage of some costly defensive mistakes from Syracuse wings Benny Williams, Chris Bell, Maliq Brown, and Justin Taylor.

Offensive, things looked a bit smoother. The Orange were 6/8 from three in the first half, allowing the team to keep things close. Joe Girard led the way for Syracuse with 13 points, while Judah Mintz had 7 points and five assists, including this half-court lob pass to Brown:

Syracuse's wing rotation looked shaky at times, but it was nice to see Brown chip in 9 points on 4/5 shooting. The defense is a bit inconsistent on his end, as evident by his -4 plus/minus rating in the first half, but he continues to show potential.

Syracuse still led 41-40 by halftime over Monmouth despite having more turnovers, getting outscored in the paint, and giving up 6/11 shooting from three for the Eagles.

The underrated story in this contest was the lack of aggressiveness on offense from Jesse Edwards. Edwards did finish with both three steals and three blocks, but he was only 2/5 from the field with just six rebounds. He struggled against a smaller lineup that simply trapped in the post and denied off the ball. He still was a positive contributor, but the Eagles' defense was able to keep Edwards’ scoring limited in the first half.

During halftime, the fans at the JMA Wireless Dome could breathe a sigh of relief when Syracuse men’s soccer secured its victory in the College Cup:

In the second half, the Orange realized it was time to change wake up and change gears (ditto for the fans in attendance).

Compared to the first half, the Orange pushed the ball in semi-transition opportunities. Williams, in particular, finally got going with back-to-back tough shots to extend the Orange’s lead back up to five points (57-52), including a huge three-pointer plus the foul by the Hawks.

The only thing the Orange had going for them consistently throughout the game, at one point shooting 13/17 from the line, with every point coming at the right moment for Syracuse. It made the defense in the second half, with Syracuse going from trailing in the game to securing its first double-digit lead of the night thanks to a 15-2 run in the middle of the half.

It was an ugly game for sure. It also didn’t help the team was checked out coming off an emotionally-charged game versus the Hoyas on Saturday afternoon. Nonetheless, the Orange got the job done, clinching the team’s fourth-straight win.

Mintz led the way for Syracuse with 24 points, 5 assists, and four steals on 50% shooting from the field (including 11/12 shooting from the foul line) in what turned out to be one of his best performances this season, keeping the Orange just ahead throughout the second half. Girard and Williams combined for 29 points on 11/24 shooting, while Brown ended the game with 11 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench.

For Monmouth, Jack Collins torched Syracuse for 20 points and 5/13 shooting from three, while Myles Foster chipped in 17 points on 7/11 shooting for the Eagles. As a team, Monmouth shot 48% from the field and 39% from three, compared to Syracuse’s 51% from the field and 8/15 performance (53% from three). The Orange finished with a plus-20 free throw attempt margin compared to the Hawks.

Hey, a win is a win and Syracuse is now 7-4 on the season. Against Monmouth, it should have been a more sure-fire victory earlier on. Expect coach Boeheim to have a lot to discuss with his team before returning to the Dome to take on the Cornell Big Red (7-2) Saturday afternoon.