The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (3-1) battled hard throughout its first game of this year’s Maui Jim Maui Invitational but ultimately came up just short Monday afternoon in a 73-56 loss to the #7 Tennessee Volunteers (4-0).
While Syracuse held up mostly well on the defensive end, the Orange were held to 35% shooting from the field while Tennessee held the backcourt of Judah Mintz (15 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists) and J.J. Starling (9 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists) to 8/25 shooting overall. Syracuse cut the Volunteers lead down to as low as a basket or two for most of the second half, but a late-game run by Tennessee gave Adrian Autry and the program their first loss of the 2023-2024 season and ends a perfect 9-0 record in the Maui Invitational.
Chris Bell scored 16 points to lead the Orange on offense. Syracuse’s offensive struggles also extended to the three-point and foul lines, where the Orange finished 6/20 and 8/17, respectively. Dalton Knecht (17 points), Josiah-Jordan James (15 points) and Jonas Aidoo (14 points) led the way for Tennessee.
Both teams found themselves in a defensive battle right of the gate as neither offense could really get going. By the final horn, Syracuse and Tennessee combined for 31 turnovers while each program shot below 40% from the field.
While the Orange forced the Volunteers to shoot 4/16 out of the gate, Mintz in particular was getting smothered early on most of his shot attempts before foul trouble took him out of the game early in the first half. Syracuse shot 4/11 to start the half, but struggled from the foul line as Tennessee looked to shut off anything easy at the rim for the Orange.
A three by Bell gave the Orange their first basket of the game, while back to back jumpers by Benny Williams off the bench put Syracuse in front 13-9 with less than 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
Another three from Williams, this time in the corner, led to Syracuse taking a 19-11 lead — the largest lead in the first half for the Orange. But as the offense grew cold, Tennessee hung around. A quick three followed by an and-one drive by Knecht put the Volunteers back within reach as Syracuse went scoreless for over three minutes.
It wasn’t pretty for either team in the first half, but Tennessee used a 15-5 to retake the lead and enter halftime up 30-25 over the Orange, who were held without a basket for almost the final six minutes of the half. Mintz remained on the bench for the half’s final 13 minutes.
Williams, Bell and Starling combined for 19 of Syracuse’s 25 points in the first half, and the Orange made up for their 8/28 (29%) shooting with a 5/11 clip from three. Knecht had 15 points in the first half to lead both teams, with Tennessee’s offensive likewise struggling to get anything substantial going (the Volunteers shot 11/34 in the first half).
Tennessee stormed ahead to begin the second half, taking a 38-27 lead early as Syracuse still found it tough to get some quality looks on offense. With the Volunteers struggling to keep possession however (Tennessee had six turnovers in less than four minutes at one point), Syracuse clawed back thanks to back-to-back jumpers by Bell. An 8-0 run put Syracuse down 38-35, with Autry and company still within a basket or two of tying the game again with around 12 minutes left to go.
Just when Tennessee looked like it could extend its lead beyond that, plays like these kept the Orange right on the cusp of clawing back (writer’s note: the clip below was Mintz’s first made basket of the entire game):
Hoop and the harm— Syracuse Men’s Basketball (@Cuse_MBB) November 20, 2023
Offensively, Mintz did shine late in the second half (13 points) with some tough jumpers to keep things close, but Syracuse couldn’t cut Tennessee’s lead down to more than three points (48-45). In the end, the Volunteers held on courtesy of getting out in transition, putting the final nail in the coffin as the Orange fell behind by double-digits with just minutes to go.