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Syracuse men’s basketball: Slow first half plagues Orange in 76-57 loss to #11 Gonzaga in Maui Invitational

The growing pains persist in paradise

Allstate Maui Invitational - Syracuse v Gonzaga Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team (3-2) went toe-to-toe with the #11 Gonzaga Bulldogs (3-1) to start the second half but ultimately fell 76-57 in their second game of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

Judah Mintz again dazzled for SU and led all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting. Despite his efforts, the rest of the Orange offense struggled once again, shooting below 36 percent for the second consecutive game. SU’s defense had minimal answers for the ‘Zags, allowing a season-high 44 points in the paint. Noah Hickman led the Bulldogs with 19 points, while Graham Ike and Anton Watson each recorded double-doubles.

Gonzaga pushed the pace offensively right from the opening tipoff. The Orange opened with man-to-man defense, much to the delight of Ike, who dominated Naheem McLeod in the paint with six points in four minutes. McLeod also racked up two fouls in that timespan, sending him to the bench for almost 10 minutes.

In McLeod’s absence, Adrian Autry replaced him with rotations including Maliq Brown and Mounir Hima. Benny Williams remained on the bench throughout the game, wearing Syracuse warmup gear. He’s now sat out three of the first five contests, with today’s reasoning unknown.

Like against Tennessee, SU’s offense continued to sputter, settling for outside jumpers. Judah Mintz swished home a stepback three-pointer to make it 9-5 Gonzaga, but that was it. The Orange shot an abysmal 3-for-14 from the field and 1-for-6 from beyond the arc through eight minutes. The ‘Zags had no problems attacking the rim in McLeod’s absence, scoring 14 of their first 19 points in the paint.

Mounir Hima made his season debut with 11:48 left in the first half. He let Gonzaga’s Anton Watson get behind him on his first defensive possession, who promptly snagged an offense rebound and slammed home two points. Hima played just three minutes in the game.

Chris Bell gave Orange fans something to smile about after knocking down a corner three-pointer to get SU within 12. Moments later, a steal and nifty reverse layup by Mintz forced ‘Zags head coach Mark Few to call a timeout.

Whatever momentum Syracuse had was completely wiped over the last two minutes of the first half. The Orange missed their final four shots, and two dunks by Ike gave the Bulldogs a 39-25 lead at halftime. Gonzaga finished the half shooting 50 percent from the field and outscored Syracuse by 20 points in the paint. It was deja vu for the Orange, who tallied the exact same points (25) and shooting percentage (28.6) as they did yesterday in the first half against Tennessee.

Mintz kicked into another gear to start the second half, helping to keep the Orange in the game. The sophomore scored SU’s first six points out of the locker room, then found McLeod open down low for a two-handed slam. After the Bulldogs ended a 6-0 Syracuse run, Mintz drove into the paint and twirled in a nifty layup to get the Orange back within eight. He doubled his first-half point total (10) in just over five minutes gone in the second.

Brown’s dunk off an assist from Mintz cut Gonzaga’s lead to 51-45, the closest Syracuse had gotten since the 17:00 mark of the first half. But the Orange just could not complete the comeback, and two defensive breakdowns led to two Bulldogs three-pointers, ballooning the deficit back to 12 points with eight minutes to play.

It was smooth sailing from there for the ‘Zags, who delivered the knockout punch with a 19-2 run over six minutes. A technical foul by Chris Bell capped off a rough afternoon for the sophomore. He only made two of his 18 shots.

Syracuse will have one final game in Maui against the loser of UCLA/Chaminade in the 7th place game tomorrow night. Tipoff is at 9:30 EST.