The amazing 52-game non-conference winning streak is over for Syracuse. The same team that was rattled by Detroit on Monday had some major flaws exposed in its 83-79 loss to Temple. It also happened at SU’s “home away from home” inside the Garden. One loss to a good Owls team is not the end of the world. But the Orange didn’t play its best game against an unfamiliar foe, and that can be how it ends in the NCAA Tourney.
Not much went well for SU in an ugly, choppy, slow-tempo game at MSG. Central New York has wondered if this team was actually better than last year’s squad that lost just three games. Here’s why it’s not (at least yet), with the Fizz Five Flaws revealed after this loss.
- SU Simply Couldn’t Box Out
The Orange was beat on the boards badly. This is the most alarming element from the loss. It was an aggressive Temple frontcourt that crashed the paint relentlessly, and its bigs outworked Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas underneath. The Owls gobbled up 16 offensive bounds, and found different ways to score on the baseline. Temple constantly flashed two or three big men on the baseline all night. Keita acknowledged that was the most difficult aspect to guard. The Owls gameplan worked brilliantly. They wanted to get it to their bigs, most notably Anthony Lee, who had the clear advantage over Keita. But even when the paint was clogged up, Khalif Wyatt was knocking down jumpers left and right. His career day forced SU to respect him from the outside as well.
- Michael Carter-Williams Is Not a Finished Product
The MCW we saw go 3-17 from the field against the Owls, didn’t look like the same one we’ve been watching. But The Fizz has spotted pockets of frantic, out of control play from Michael at other points this season. There are times he has looked too wound up, with no rhythm. Against Temple he was noticeably uncomfortable, argued too often with the referees and played recklessly. He’s capable of much better, but this game shows the sophomore still has more growing to do. He wanted the rock in his hands, that’s clear. And players said the message from Boeheim down the stretch was to attack the rim. But MCW needs to show more controlled energy and leadership when his shots aren’t falling. It’s easy to dish out 10 assists with 20-point leads. Orange Nation got an early look at what this offense boils down to in tight games. It needs more leadership from its PG.
MCW was visibly dejected in the locker room postgame. Coach Fran Dunphy’s gameplan was to play Carter-Williams straight up, one-on-one and let him beat his Owl squad. It worked.
“A lot of teams are going to start doing that since they see I pass the ball so much. I got to get used to it.”
- Dion Waiters Ain’t in Syracuse Anymore
If the one-on-one, penetrate the lane gameplan is what Boeheim wants down the stretch, we should all remember Dion Waiters no longer wears Orange. Waiters was the one player who could get to the tin and convert. The Orange doesn’t have someone as shifty and as creative this year. SU was forced to play in a half court set much of this game, and the ball movement disappeared. There was no attempt to work the ball around the perimeter or dump it into the paint. You have to look at Carter-Williams’ decision making in the second half. He said postgame that JB wanted drives to the rim. But MCW needed to recognize shots weren’t falling. He hasn’t scored consistently yet this season, especially around the rim. Five times this season he’s shot less than 40% from the field in a game.
This is MCW’s team to control and it should be. He now needs to be able to adjust to defensive gameplans.
- CJ Fair Needs The Rock More
The junior quietly racked up 25 points on the afternoon and was aggressive driving the lane. His motor was relentless on the offensive end. Too bad he barely touched the ball at times in the second half. It doesn’t make sense that SU didn’t look to feed Fair, who finished shooting 8-12 from the field. He was creative, knocked down his step back jumpers, and most importantly, he was a perfect 8-8 from the line on a day the SU was terrible with free throws. He was the one Orange scoring consistently. SU should have looked to get it the 6’7” workhorse more often.
Brandon Triche said the reason why his squad lost the game was because the energy was so low. He’s right. But CJ did have the intensity on Saturday. SU just failed to get him the ball.
- Free Throws… Enough Said
“If I made my free throws we’d have won the game.”
Those were Carter-Williams’ words after the game. Syracuse shotjust 56% from the line (19-34) and lost by four. Eruciating. SU’s 65% free throw percentage is now 274th in the nation. The Orange sits right in front of North Carolina (9-3) and Kentucky (8-3) on that list. Two other teams that have the potential to be great, but have suffered early losses. Triche admitted there was anxiety when SU made it to the line late. That has to change. Had SU shot 24-34 it would’ve won and still remained undefeated. There’s plenty to learn from this loss, hopefully it helps put a jolt back in their step.
Posted: Kevin Fitzgerald