Syracuse Orange men’s basketball head coach Jim Boeheim has a penchant for defending players who he thinks haven’t been given their due. Boeheim’s propensity to go to bat for players reaches as far back as Marty Byrnes in 1977 and as recently as Frank Howard. Although it wasn’t quite as passionate as the “Not ten” 2006 Big East Tournament speech in defense of Gerry McNamara, you can add Joe Girard to that list of players.
Syracuse has won three straight games after handling the Louisville Cardinals 92-69 on Saturday. The balanced offense in the last three games has had a lot to do with that, including the play of Girard, who Boeheim feels is unjustly criticized.
“He’s been really, really good. That’s typical of what everybody says about Joe Girard. When he plays great, they say he’s pretty good,” Boeheim began.
Girard is averaging 13.3 points, 4.4 assists and 3.0 turnovers per game in his junior campaign. He shoots 41% from the floor and 42.3% from three.
“Your point guard is critical for your offense, period. Always is, always will be, always has been,” Boeheim continued. “When he [Girard] plays at a high level—not just pretty good—then we’re really difficult to guard because they’re worried about his jumpshot coming off, that gets Jesse open down low. They’re worried about our shooters. Joe’s done a great job of finding them.”
After scoring 23 points against Clemson on Jan. 18, Girard struggled in road games at Duke and at Pittsburgh. He went 4-22 in those two games and had nine turnovers with eight assists. After the loss to Pittsburgh, Boeheim said Girard was hard to figure out and there was nothing he could do about his play. The junior guard would have to do something about it himself.
“Joe was out of it and I thought he would take charge,” Boeheim said after the loss to Pittsburgh. “I though he would say, ‘Okay, Symir is not here. I’ve got to do something.’ And he didn’t do that. It was very disappointing.”
But Syracuse has won three straight games since then. Girard has averaged 15.3 points per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6 in that span. That includes an eight assist, one turnover night at N.C. State while facing full-court pressure nearly the entire game.
“But Joe Girard has been really good all year,” Boeheim elaborated in defense of his player. “He’s been outstanding in the last three games. All anyone wants to remember about Joe Girard is a bad game he played in Pittsburgh or a bad game he played someplace else. It’s a long season. His numbers are great. He’s been tremendous. He’s being pressured the whole game and he’s handling it.”
Girard is fourth in the ACC in assists (4.48), fifth in steals (1.74), second in 3-point percentage (42.3%) and he leads the league in free throw percentage (90.8%). Only two players in the league have made more 3s. Girard has made 60 shots from outside, trailing only N.C. State’s Terquavion Smith with 69 and his backcourt mate Buddy Boeheim with 64.
“He’s getting way too much criticism,” Boeheim said. “Way too much.”