With 16:32 remaining in the first half of SU‚Äôs matchup with Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Orange trailed 11-4 and had just allowed its third triple of the game thanks to poor defensive rotation. Jim Boeheim called for a timeout and gave Bourama Sidibe one of the most intense talking-tos we‚Äôve seen in quite some time. The big man took a seat on the bench while freshman Quincy Guerrier checked in.
Just over two-and-a-half minutes later with SU still trailing 14-8, Boeheim elected to pull true freshman point guard Joe Girard in favor of junior Howard Washington who after working his way back from multiple knee injuries and a stroke has seemingly won the backup PG job for SU.
When Coach Boeheim made those moves to the bench, they seemed temporary at best and may have left some feeling nervous about whether or not the game would get further away from the Orange than it already had. That was not the case. Instead, those two changes by the 44th year head man completely changed the complexion of the game.
Over the next eight or so minutes, SU went on a 22-6 run to completely take control of the game in the first half. During that stretch, Guerrier dominated the glass with eight rebounds to go along with two points, two steals and two assists. Washington‚Äôs stats weren‚Äôt nearly as eye-popping, but he ran the offense to seeming perfection (+/- of +14 for the game) and deferred to the hot hand of Buddy Boeheim while also picking up a jumper, a rebound and an assist for his own stat line.
To be quite honest, without that run in that situation, the game probably would have been completely different and we wouldn‚Äôt have the same warm, fuzzy feeling when it comes to talking about a possible NCAA Tournament bid for SU. Guerrier and Washington, along with another fantastic performance from the Orange‚Äôs two-headed monster, are the reason why.
Moving forward, it shouldn‚Äôt come as a surprise if we see both guys receive some more playing time as a result of this performance.
Bourama Sidibe has proven many times throughout the season that he has a very hard time staying out of foul trouble (to be fair Guerrier has the same issue and had three fouls during the run) and gets bullied both defensively and on the glass. He‚Äôs also pretty much non-existent offensively.
Guerrier proved that he can be dominant on the glass, albeit against the smallest team in the conference, and has shown flashes of the ability to create his own shot on a much higher level than Sidibe, something the Orange offense desperately lacks. His being in the game also shifts Marek Dolezaj into the center of the zone which seemingly has been a bit more effective this season.
As for Washington, he proved that he‚Äôs a veteran presence off the bench that can handle the pressure of a crucial ACC game. It‚Äôs a lot to ask of Joe Girard as a true freshman to play all 35+ minutes at the point guard spot (which he‚Äôs done seven times already this year). Before Washington‚Äôs emergence, if JG3 was having an off night (which isn‚Äôt all that common) or wasn‚Äôt playing 100% or just simply needed a breather, there just wasn‚Äôt anyone Jim Boeheim could turn to off the bench. That has changed and it‚Äôs become apparent that Washington can easily handle this team for stretches.
For a couple of guys that have had topsy-turvy careers at Syracuse for entirely different reasons, it‚Äôs really encouraging to see them rounding into form as the Orange approach the heart of ACC play. If SU can keep getting consistent performances out of them and sees the production of the Big 3 stay at this point, then the Orange may just be a dangerous team down the stretch.