The always-wise Jim Boeheim has mentioned many times this season that games become easier when your team is able to knock down shots. After an eight-day layoff, Syracuse proved that theory right when it shot over 60% from the field on Wednesday en route to a dominant 81-63 win over Boston College.
Despite the convincing final margin of victory, this game looked like it was going in a very different direction in the early going.
The Eagles jumped out to an early 14-7 lead behind an absolutely scorching shooting effort. They knocked down each of their first five shots, including four shots from beyond the arc. BC makes the most three-pointers in all of the ACC, but SU still looked completely lost on the defensive end in the early going. The Orange couldn’t get out on a single perimeter shooter and simply gave a very talented shooting team open looks at the bucket.
When SU finally got a stop with a steal, Frank Howard was promptly swatted on a fastbreak layup which turned into an easy transition three for the Eagles.
Boeheim took an early timeout to try to stop the bleeding, but things went from bad to worse from there. Just a few possessions later, Matthew Moyer soared for one of his signature tough-guy rebounds. As he came down, however, he landed awkwardly on his left leg and ended up missing the rest of the game with what has been diagnosed as a left ankle sprain that will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
Apparently, the Moyer injury was just what Syracuse needed. The Orange proceeded to outscore the Eagles 36-23 for the remainder of the first half and the combo of Oshae Brissett and Frank Howard were the reason why. The pair combined to 28 of SU’s 47 points in the first frame and each had a stretch where they scored ten straight points for the Orange. It really seemed as if they couldn’t miss. Brissett, who has struggled to connect from the perimeter this season, was lights-out from beyond the three-point line and Howard knocked down nearly every shot he looked at.
The defensive performance was also crucial to put SU out in front by ten before the halftime break. SU figured out that the only way BC was going to be able to stick with them was through guard play and that the Eagles really had no business bringing the ball inside because they simply didn’t have the physical play necessary to break down the interior of the zone. Because of that realization, Boeheim shifted the zone toward the three-point line and made it far more difficult for the Eagles to get open looks. It really looked like two different teams before and after the Moyer injury.
The second half was more of the same dominance from SU. The Orange continued to get open looks and knock down shots by getting everyone involved on the offensive end. All five players that played more than five minutes on the night (Battle, Howard, Brissett, Chukwu, Dolezaj) finished in double figures.
Battle put up one of the quietest and most efficient 24-point performances you’re ever going to see (9-14, 63%) and at times looked downright unstoppable on the dribble-drive. Dolezaj flashed the ability to knock down the mid-range jumper. Chukwu was able to make some nice finesse moves around the bucket and also threw down a wild one-handed jam and Brissett and Howard continued their strong performances from the first half.
Looking at the big picture, there were a couple of huge positives in this game for SU. Howard did not commit a single turnover and finally showed that he can take care of the rock in conference play. The Orange got everyone involved on the offensive end and took some of the pressure of Tyus Battle to have a crazy night (he still led the way). SU also finally proved that it can shoot the ball well as it finished over 60% from the field and a scorching hot 43% from beyond the arc.
One thing to keep an eye on moving forward is the Moyer injury. Boeheim said that there’s a possibility that he could miss some time and that’s a huge deal. This SU team is already very shallow and it hasn’t played the most daunting part of its schedule. If Moyer is out for an extended period of time, it could spell disaster for the Orange when it has to go against the likes of Duke and North Carolina.
All in all, this was a huge win for SU, especially considering how crucial it was to its tournament chances. It was the best offensive performance of the conference slate thus far and is a big momentum builder going into the always-tough Petersen Events Center versus Pittsburgh on Saturday. Although the Panthers are pretty awful, anything can happen at the Pete when SU comes to town, but another performance like this one should lock up a win for the Orange.