The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (11-11, 5-6) picked up its second true road win of the season at North Carolina State (10-13, 3-9) on Wednesday night, handling the Wolfpack late to win 89-82.
All Syracuse starters scored in double-figures while the bench failed to score. Syracuse trailed 45-42 at the break, but the three-point defense improved in the second half while the offense kept scoring as NC State had little success thwarting the Orange attack. Syracuse shot 32-54 (59.3%) from the floor 11-19 (57.9%) from three and out-scored NC State in the paint 36-24.
Here are our takeaways:
It wasn’t the heater. It wasn’t the circle change. No, Syracuse came through in the ninth inning with the backdoor Swider and caught NC State looking (/ducks).
Cole Swider came through for Syracuse down the stretch. He made an important free throw line jumper while being fouled (and completed the three point play) to put the Orange up four with 7:12 to go. Then he made a three to give Syracuse a five point lead with 5:33 to play. With 1:43 left in the game and Syracuse clinging to a one point lead, Swider made a triple from the left wing to make it a four point game.
“Earlier in the year we would’ve lost this game by six or eight points because Cole wasn’t getting into the spots that he needs to get into,” Jim Boeheim said after the game. “He made the foul line one with the and-one—which we needed—but he made the three to put us in the lead on the throwback coming out of the timeout. That wasn’t an easy shot, the guy came right at him. When he shoots it like that we’re a different team.”
While Swider has rebounded well all season, his improved shooting has been an important development in Syracuse’s last two wins. He’s started to look the part of the shooter Syracuse thought he could be and with the stakes not so high, perhaps that’s allayed some fears.
“Honestly for me, the pressure’s off. Everyone’s kind of written us off. Everyone’s said we’re not going to be any good this year. So I’m just kind of taking the mentality like, there’s no more pressure, just go out there and play and we’ll live with the results at that point,” Swider said post-game.
Joe Girard handled the pressure... and found Jesse Edwards
On a night when NC State brought relentless ball pressure and picked up full-court, Joe Girard handled the duress with aplomb. He had just one turnover in 31 minutes and he was dealing in the half-court. He found Jimmy Boeheim underneath for a reverse. He found Buddy Boeheim on the perimeter for a pair of open 3s. He set up Swider for a left-wing trey.
And an element that has perhaps been undersold, Girard continues to develop a nice rapport with Jesse Edwards. He found Edwards underneath on four of his eight assists. The two juniors have connected time and again this season and very rarely does it go poorly when Edwards is given the ball in the paint.
“Joe did a good job of finding Jesse, looking for him,” Boeheim said. “We got him a bucket right away early. They were looking for him. The second half it really opened up, he got the roll down. They’re [help defense] conscious of Cole and they’re conscious of where Buddy is.”
Edwards had a big game inside as NC State was without Manny Bates and Ebenezer Dowuona. He took advantage with 19 points on 8-9 shooting, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. Buddy Boeheim found Edwards early and Girard found him throughout the second half on lobs and roll action.
Jesse Edwards had once again a big impact for Syracuse, this time in a 89-82 win at NC State. Excellent job capitalizing on some great passes off the PnR and also punishing the opponents' poor transition defense.— CBB Europe (@CBB_Europe) February 3, 2022
19 PTS • 8-9 2P • 3-6 FT • 6 REB • 2 AST • 3 BLK pic.twitter.com/Ky0V3h1mct
Oh, and Girard made his first shot of the game. Good things always seem to follow when that happens.
Fool’s gold defense
Well, the other side of the ball continues to need work for Syracuse. Coming into the night, the Orange ranked No. 225 in KenPom in 3-point shooting percentage defense. The zone allows more 3s per total field goals attempted than any other team in the country save one: UNC Greensboro.
Syracuse’s second half defensive effort against Wake Forest last Saturday proved to be fool’s gold. The Orange struggled mightily to defend NC State, particularly in the first half. The Wolfpack dissected the 2-3 zone for open looks, shooting 10-20 from 3-point land in the first 20 minutes. Terquavion Smith went 4-8 from beyond the arc in the first half and Thomas Allen went 2-3.
Syracuse went to the 1-1-3 at various points with Edwards and Frank Anselem in foul trouble but late rotations led to open looks for the Wolfpack time and again.
Syracuse tightened the screws somewhat in the second half and NC State shot just 6-19 from outside. But Syracuse still surrendered 82 points and allowed 16-39 (41%) shooting from outside. Not too many teams can win games giving up 16 threes, but this Syracuse squad is going to have to try to continue to do that with offense.
It did that on Wednesday night.