The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team took a small step toward becoming a better defensive and rebounding team against LSU on Tuesday night. The Orange still have major strides to make in those respective departments, but during the ACC/SEC Challenge, Syracuse improved.
Syracuse held LSU to 24-61 (39.3%) shooting from the floor and 2-22 (9.1%) from three. The Orange won the rebounding battle 43-36 and forced 19 turnovers which translated to 26 points for SU. It’s why Adrian Autry thought it was the best outing of the year.
The performance comes on the heels of the Maui Invitational, where the orange men went 1-2 after being out-rebounded by 15 to Tennessee and by 20 to Gonzaga. The rebounding margin was discussed by the coaching staff and emphasized to the team.
“I thought defensively and rebounding the basketball — which we struggled with coming back from Maui — we worked on it a lot. I thought these guys did a really good job addressing that,” Autry said after the LSU game.
Two of the questions in the early season for Syracuse have been the rebounding and perimeter defense. The former of those struggles persisted in the first half against LSU as the Tigers held a 26-20 rebounding edge in the first 20 minutes.
“I thought the second half, you know, again our defense was good so they missed a lot of shots and they took a lot of perimeter shots. So that made them spread out so I think we were able to get the rebounds a little easier,” Autry surmised.
Of course, there’s the obvious: with Syracuse making shots in the second half there was less opportunity for LSU to rebound and with the Tigers missing shots there was more opportunity for Syracuse to rebound. But to SU’s credit, the Orange closed out defensive stops by securing rebounds, a critical component of playing with offensive tempo — the style Autry wants to play.
One player who’s stepped up on the glass is sophomore wing Justin Taylor. While he’s currently playing out of position as an undersized four, the broad-shouldered, 6-foot-6 Taylor possesses a large frame. On top of his shooting, he’s being asked to rebound, currently averaging 6.1 per game.
“It’s definitely been a huge emphasis since last year just trying to get my rebounding up. Of course Naheem’s going to have his hands full, Maliq (too). So it’s my job to get in there and try to get as many as I can,” said Taylor, Syracuse’s leading rebounder.
Autry jokes that his players might’ve been mad at him. He gave them one day off following the trip to Hawaii. After that, it was back to practice at 6:30 am to get back into rhythm and readjusted to the time zone.
Despite his previous effort to communicate the need to defend and rebound during the early days of his tenure, Autry’s message might as well have fallen on deaf ears. It took a 24 point deficit and until the second half of the Colgate game for his team to respond and eventually mount the comeback on Nov. 14. But winning can sometimes be a poor teacher and Autry’s words didn’t quite carry weight until the two games against Tennessee and Gonzaga.
“We got the message of what we need to do to compete with really, really good teams. And that’s defending,” Autry said.
“That’s an athletic team and we out-rebounded them,” JJ Starling said of LSU. “That just goes to say a lot.”
Starling, the team’s second leading rebounder from the guard position with 5.6 per game, struggled on Tuesday night. Still, he managed five rebounds and is often willing to board as a strong, physical guard.
While the centers are splitting time, Maliq Brown finished as the leading rebounder against LSU with ten. The self-aware Brown rarely gets outside of himself and plays consistently in a workmanlike fashion. He had seven points and two steals to boot.
“Maliq Brown doing Maliq Brown things,” Autry says.
The Orange will need more of that going forward from both Brown, McLeod and the rest of the team for that matter.
Syracuse has a chance to build on the defensive and rebounding performance. Although it plays at a slower pace, Virginia doesn’t score it or rebound particularly well. The Cavaliers are coming off a 12 point win over No. 18 Texas A&M. We’ll know more about this Syracuse team soon and understand if it was just a one-off performance or the start of a new trend.