It’s become something of a trend this season. After a dominating first half, Syracuse has consistently let ACC opponents back into games. Then the Orange will regroup and shut the door, as it did today to extend it win streak to five games. Once again Buddy Boeheim was electric in the first half, before cooling down and letting teammates help out in SU’s 69-61 victory over Pittsburgh.
After scoring 18 by halftime, Boeheim finished the day with 21. And after he tapered off in the last 20 minutes, Syracuse needed someone else to step up. Today, it wasn’t Elijah Hughes or Joe Girard. Instead, Marek Dolezaj finished as SU’s second leading scorer with 17 points and seven rebounds.
“His freshman year, he was like a timid little skinny dude,” Hughes said of Dolezaj. “He’s playing with aggression now, he’s talking a little smack now. It’s great to see.” According to Hughes, that smack talk is usually delivered in Slovakian
Syracuse’s perimeter defense was fantastic once again, as Pitt made under 24 percent of its threes. Prior to this game, SU opponents were shooting just 30.5 percent from deep. Four of Pittsburgh’s first five shots were threes, ending with each attempt clanking off the rim. It wasn’t until the second half that Pittsburgh started making quick passes around the 2-3 zone and finding open looks inside.
Panthers star guard Trey McGowens scored just seven points on 2-8 shooting. Two of his points came on free throws, and another deuce on a fast-break dunk. His partner Xavier Johnson didn’t fair much better, scoring on just three of his 13 tries for nine points.
SU outrebounded the smaller Panthers 39-33, and held a commanding rebounding lead for the majority of the game. SU’s bigs – Quincy Guerrier, Dolezaj, and Sidibe – combined for 23 rebounds. Pitt struggled all game with the length of Dolezaj and Sidibe, and was manhandled by Guerrier’s physicality. But when Sidibe sat down with four fouls, SU gave up too many easy buckets.
“It hurts us when Bourama goes out, hurts our inside defense,” Jim Boeheim said. “He was good tonight defensively and when he goes out it does hurt us on the defensive end.”
While Guerrier struggled on the defensive end, he is already a better scorer than Sidibe. The freshman was just two rebounds short of a double-double, and his offense was vital to holding onto a diminishing lead. And while Guerrier has shown improvement throughout the course of the year, with his best basketball likely ahead of him this season, Jim Boeheim thinks he still has plenty of room to grow.
“I think he’s going to make a three someday,” Boeheim said of Guerrier. “But I’m not sure it’s going to be in my lifetime.”