In his first start at Syracuse, in just his third game Joe Girard stole the show. Girard missed just one shot while scoring 24 points. Even against Colgate, when his shot wasn’t falling Girard showed all the other skills he brings to the table. When he enters the game, Girard energizes the defense, finds open shooters on offense and even picks the pocket of unaware dribblers.
When asked about people assuming he was just a shooter when he signed with Syracuse Girard said, “You see stuff in headlines in high school you just think that all I cared about was points but I think the mindset is starting to change.”
But tonight with Buddy Boeheim in the midst of a so-so performance, Girard was shouldered with scoring. And he did just that in bunches. Typically freshman don’t come in and lead a team in scoring three games in unless they are a five star recruit. But Girard has the confidence of a former quarterback. And as a starting point guard in the ACC, he has to be a leader as well. Even though he’s younger than most of the other freshman, his teammates already see a leader.
“Joe is a leader,” said fellow freshman Quincy Guerrier. “He’s 18 years old but he’s really acting like a leader. He was ready from the beginning, really smart, great speed, passing the ball well, shooting the ball well. And he’s in control.”
With fans oozing over Girard’s shooting potential, his playmaking skills seem to have been overlooked. And while Syracuse eased to an easy victory over an inferior opponent in Seattle, it is encouraging for fans to see someone take control of the point guard position.
And it’s unlikely Girard will see a dip in confidence anytime soon. Multiple times he’s talked about the importance of confidence, whether that be in high school or now at Syracuse. He plans to play the same way as he did in high school, since that’s what got him to the ACC. And if the results come close to mirroring his performance tonight, there’s no reason he should change. It’s not often a true freshman is a leader the minute he walks on campus. It took Buddy Boeheim some time to get comfortable and he’s practically been a part of the team his whole life.
But Girard wasn’t the only freshman to have a nice outing. Guerrier flashed some of his potential, including his muscle inside. Fans may be discouraged by his free throw and three point shooting, but according to Jim Boeheim, Guerrier is very good at both in practice. It will just take more reps to shake off some nerves of playing in the Dome.
Outside of those two areas, Guerrier brings a physicality Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe don’t. Guerrier practically lives at the foul line, taking 14 shots tonight. He also led the team with seven rebounds in just 17 minutes. When he enters the game, he makes an impact.
Seattle simply had no answer for Guerrier’s dominance in the paint, and he out-bodied his defenders constantly. Guerrier also called for the ball on multiple occasions, including one time when Brycen Goodine had barely crossed half court. Maybe he shouldn’t call for the ball there but it’s nice to see a big man wanting the ball on offense. He’s aggressive, and Syracuse needs to tap into his energy. Once he starts to his threes, SU could have four shooters on the floor, spacing out defenses even more. Boeheim remarked that Seattle struggled to contain SU’s bigs since they were so focused on stopping the perimeter shooters. Guerrier has that rare skill set where he can hurt defenses both inside and out. Don’t be surprised to see his playing time continue to grow.
Marek Dolezaj also continues to improve in his junior season. Dolezaj scored 19 points on 7-8 shooting from the field. He is becoming more aggressive, but some of his chances were open looks or put-backs. Later in the game he began to drive on his defender and was very successful. He needs to be more aggressive on offense, because he’s a capable presence.
Boeheim said Dolezaj, “hasn’t played this way this year, and that’s the way we need him to play.”
But overall, Syracuse played a solid game. SU needs to continue to play this way, with solid play both inside and out on offense. But again, this was against Seattle. If the Orange play like this in ACC play, the rest of the league will quickly take notice.