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Syracuse men’s basketball: Joe Girard is playing his most complete games for the Orange

The senior shooting guard is getting hot at a crucial point in the season.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 16 Syracuse at Miami Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Syracuse Orange fans have heard the name Joe Girard tossed around a lot during his four seasons with the program. His performances over the years have been a mix of eye-catching precision shooting and head-scratching cold streaks and defensive relapses. But despite his imperfections, JGIII was counted on to be a major contributor to one of the youngest Orange basketball teams in a long time. Since ACC play began, Girard has lived up to that expectation and then some.

The Guard has scored at least 16 points in every conference game, save one, so far. He’s eclipsed 20 points in three of the last four games, and five of the last seven. Girard is also coming off what is likely the best overall performance of his career - a 28-point outing against Georgia Tech which also featured six made threes, five rebounds, and seven assists. It’s not just the stats that should stand out from that game: it’s how he accumulated those numbers.

The first half was textbook Joe Girard. The Orange were down nine and desperately needed to find some rhythm on the offensive end. JGIII took the hint and drained four consecutive shots, two of which were beyond the arc. He added another three-pointer during the critical 17-0 scoring run, which gave Syracuse the lead for good.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 21 Syracuse at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Despite tallying 18 points before the break, some might have expected Girard to taper off in the second half. There have been instances this season where Joe finds himself under added pressure and tries to force shots. This was not one of those cases; Girard recognized that he was being doubled and instead worked the ball out to other Orange scorers like Jesse Edwards and Maliq Brown. While Girard did add 10 points in the half, it’s more notable that he had five of his seven assists then too.

That’s what is different about Girard lately: when one aspect of his game is struggling, he’s been less reluctant to turn towards a different approach on offense. Deep shot needs to be recalibrated? He’ll take some easier points in the paint when there’s room to do so. Nowhere to move with the ball? There are four teammates on the court that make it so he doesn’t have to try an ill-advised iso. Game seems like it’s slipping away? Joe is resisting the urge to play hero ball by letting plays develop.

I’ve been a pretty big critic of Girard in the past, so believe me when I say he’s been impressing me recently. Maybe the move from the 1 back to his natural position, which he hasn’t played consistently since high school, is finally allowing him to loosen up a bit and not let small mistakes completely psych him out of a game.

What’s also impressing me is how Girard has a legitimate shot at the ACC scoring race. NC State’s Terquavion Smith is head and shoulders above the rest averaging 18.7 PPG, but he was just hospitalized after a scary injury. While it thankfully doesn’t seem to be too serious, Smith could miss a few games recovering and may not be 100% when he does return. That could open the door for Girard, who is 5th in the conference with 17.5 PPG, to get back into the conversation.

Regardless, Joe’s surge in production couldn’t have come at a better time. If the Orange can keep relying on him as more than a one-dimensional option, their slim NCAA Tournament hopes might just be within reach.