We knew coming into the season that Elijah Hughes was going to be the go-to-guy for Syracuse basketball. We knew that game in and game out, his performances were going to be critical to the Orange’s success. Play well and SU had a shot, play poorly and things could go badly very, very quickly.
He’s been about as stable as they come this year and ranks second in the ACC in scoring at 19.5 points per game, just 0.9 ppg off the pace set by Louisville’s Jordan Nwora. There’s no surprise there.
What might surprise even the most loyal of Syracuse fans, though, is that the Orange have another player in the league’s top ten scorers.
Yes, you saw that right, the coach’s kid that had just one quality offer outside of the one from his dad coming out of high school (Mark Few and Gonzaga offered him late in the cycle) is the sixth best scorer in the ACC.
To make things even better for the Orange, SU is one of just two teams in the ACC to have a duo inside the top ten. The other? No. 3 Duke which has the league’s fourth-best scorer in Vernon Carey (17.6 ppg) and its tenth best in Tre Jones (15.1 ppg).
That means that the Eli-Buddy pairing is the best scoring duo in the ACC. No two teammates in one of the country’s bet conferences (in an admittedly weak year) are better at putting the ball in the bucket than those two.
That’s almost hard to fathom considering that before the upset win over Virginia last Saturday, the season looked it was hanging on by a thread. Heck, even after a dominant rout of Boston College on Wednesday night some things are going to have to break the right way for SU to make the tournament. Maybe that’s the reason why… nobody is talking about it.
If you aren’t reading Syracuse’s game notes before every game (which most people don’t), you probably wouldn’t have any idea just how effective these two have been this season.
Not only do they combine to score just north of 35 points per game, they’re also two of the best shooters in the league with Buddy checking in as the league’s third best shooter by percentage (41.1%) and leading the conference in threes per game (3.6) and Hughes not far behind sitting at fourth in three-point percentage (40.3%) and second in triples per contest (3.1).
The Boston College game, quite honestly, was a perfect example of how deadly these two can be if they’re both in rhythm. Buddy flashed his potential as more than just a sharpshooter and scored 22 points. He showed a willingness to pass up on a difficult three-point shot in favor of putting it on the deck and getting to the midrange or the cup for a much easier look. When all was said and done, his performance against the Eagles may have been the most impressive of his collegiate career.
“I thought I played really well,” Buddy said after the win, “I started off poorly. I wasn’t making my shots. I wasn’t being aggressive. I had a couple turnovers, but I really turned it around, getting to the rim, making my pull-ups. I thought I made a couple really good turnarounds I’ve been working on a lot. Seeing those shots go in shows that hard work is paying off.”
Honestly, Buddy might not be giving himself enough credit. He shot 9-17 from the floor, including 4-7 from beyond the arc (both better than his season averages) and only turned the ball over twice.
Meanwhile, Elijah Hughes just did Elijah Hughes things. With Buddy commanding the spotlight with his incredible performance, Hughes quietly poured in quietly efficient 19 points (right on average) on 7-14 shooting to go along with four boards and five assists.
The guy might be the most consistent player in the ACC and you know exactly what you’re going to get out of him night in and night out. That’s huge for a team that’s as young as Syracuse and still has so many question marks.
“He’s one of the best players in the country,” Buddy said about his teammate, “You love having a guy like that. There’s no one else I’d rather play with. He makes plays and just does everything so easily.”
That’s the word that often comes to mind when you think about Elijah Hughes: easy. He makes everything on the floor look so effortless. He’s got a ton of talent and the work ethic and drive to make it all come together into what should be an ACC Player of the Year candidate.
The pair’s ability to defer to one another when someone has the hot hand might the duo’s most impressive trait of them all. It seems like they’re nearly perfectly in sync and they’re tearing apart defenses as a result.
Let’s put it this way, no Syracuse duo has averaged a combined 35.2 points per game Hakim Warrick (21.4) and Gerry McNamara (15.8) tallied 37.2 a game in the 2004-2005 season. Eli and Buddy are doing something special right now and it’s time to take note.