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Syracuse men’s basketball: Takeaways from oh-so-close fight against Clemson

A valiant comeback effort falls just short in the end.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was your typical Syracuse Orange men’s basketball game in three acts: Fall behind early due to a cold shooting stretch and iso-ball, rally out of halftime to make it close, then have as many back-and-forths as possible in the closing minutes.

Despite his Clemson Tigers’ best efforts to give the ball (and the game) away, Joe Girard got the last laugh after all, as SU fell 77-68 inside the Dome. Girard himself had a team-best 18 points to reach 2,000 in his career - that much deserves a genuine shoutout.

Onto the takeaways:

Problems Persist on the Glass

Clemson gave SU many, many chances to get back into this game. They turned the ball over 21 times, ran into foul trouble in the second half, and could just never pull completely away. But the one area where they left no doubt was on the glass. Clemson had 41 total rebounds; Syracuse had 24.

This same issue nearly cost SU against Louisville on Wednesday, when the disparity was 40-21 in favor of the visitors. Both Red Autry and players such as Chris Bell emphasized postgame that the team has to rebound better and play tighter defense if they hope to stay competitive against the rest of their ACC slate, but there’s not much else that can be done. Maliq Brown is the only true inside option the team can rely on, and their opponents know it. Which leads me into...

Structural Damage

For the second straight game, ‘Cuse ran a seven-man rotation, swapping in a not-100% Mounir Hima for an also-not-100% Peter Carey. We found out just minutes before the game that Carey would not play this afternoon, further limiting the options Red has available.

I still question why Kyle Cuffe hasn’t gotten a shot the past two games - Autry calls it a coaching decision, not injury related - but with or without his inclusion, the Orange are hard pressed to match better rested squads on a nightly basis.

I’ve seen a lot of negativity towards Judah Mintz for trying to do too much on his own, and to an extent I understand the frustration... but this is far from just a “hero ball” issue.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

When the other four guys on the court aren’t creating enough spacing, I can’t fault the team’s leading scorer for trying to, well, score. A 6/18 FG line is not one of his better ones, but he still had moments that kept SU’s second-half momentum swing going. It’s not like the overall team shooting was much better (25/64).

What I can fault him for is not talking with the media after the game when all of his teammates did. As other outlets will confirm, Mintz hid in the back of the locker room until our allotted window was up. The open locker room setting is a team policy, and it’s not a good look for the team leader to be the one setting the wrong kind of example.

Couldn’t Finish the Fight

“This game was us.”

That’s what Autry said about his team’s inability to close out a comeback in the second half. Despite tying the game at 60 with 3:37 to play, the Orange couldn’t pull ahead. Missed free throws, forced shots, and their defensive flaws catching up did them in. There’s no grandiose reasoning for the contrary.

But just like on Wednesday, there’s an unsung hero who should be getting more spotlight. I’ll let Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell explain:

“I mean, I’m a big fan of Maliq Brown. I think the kid’s a really good player. He makes winning plays... he’s the lunch pail guy.”

Brown had nine points, eight rebounds, four steals and a block - not quite the insane 5X5 line from a few nights ago, but still impressive work by the squad’s gadget guy. Said it before and I will again now: he’s the most NBA-ready player in the program right now.

As for the other sophomores: it was a calmer afternoon for Chris Bell (16 points, 4/13 FG, 4/5 FT), an ok showing for Quadir Copeland (13 points, 4/9 FG, 5/6 FT) and a total dud for Justin Taylor, who still hasn’t found his shot. I bring all three of these guys up because despite their inconsistencies, they can still be a part of the future.

BONUS: The Loud and Proud House

I’m not gonna do the whole “close your eyes” thing, but take a listen to the crowd reaction on J.J. Starling’s game-tying shot:

The paid attendance was over 23,000 - more than any other college basketball facility can hold - even with a middling on-court product. So kudos to Orange Nation for supporting the regime change through a rocky start. The NCAAs are a long-shot, but keep showing up like this and who knows? Maybe an extra home game or two is in the cards for March.