Basketball is a team sport, there’s no doubt about it, but quite often what makes the game so much fun to watch and be a part of are the individual athletes. It’s the guys who give their everything on the floor every single night not only for the love of the game but for the fans who cheer them on from the sidelines. It is these individuals that we often remember and are attached to most. With that being said, let’s recognize a few individuals from the 2019-20 Syracuse basketball season who put together some pretty insane individual performances.
5. Dec. 28 – Elijah Hughes vs Niagara
Elijah Hughes put together some pretty wild scoring performances this season and wound up finishing the year as the ACC’s top scorer after pouring in 20+ points in 15 different games. He didn’t quite hit that threshold in a dominant win over Niagara in the non-conference finale (19 points) but what makes this performance impressive was just how complete it was.
Eli finished just one rebound and one assist shy of the first triple-double for any Syracuse player since now assistant coach Allen Griffin did it back in 2001. He was quite literally involved in just about every play that night and put up those ridiculous numbers while still managing to be efficient offensively. He hit 6 of his 11 shots from the floor and missed just once (6-7) from the charity stripe.
We knew Hughes had the ability to score at a high-level. That had been well-established in his first year in Orange and in the first handful off games in 2019. But, to be the true go-to-guy, a true superstar like so many fans were hoping for out of the Hudson Valley native, he was going to have to do the other things at a high level as well. This dominant and near-historic performance proved he could and set the tone for the rest of his outstanding season.
4. Nov. 16 – Joe Girard III vs Seattle
Just imagine the amount of pressure that was heaped onto Joe Girard before this game. The previous starting point guard had just been benched after an extremely rocky start to the season. That made fans clamor to push a guy that had shot just 25% from the floor in his first two collegiate games into the starting lineup and the spotlight as a true freshman. That’s not to mention that he put together perhaps the most storied high school athletic career in New York State history and was nothing short of local hero with nearly impossible expectations on his shoulders. For many youngsters, that kind of pressure would make them crumble. Not Joe Girard III.
Girard woke up a previously dormant Syracuse offense and led them to an easy 89-67 win over Seattle in his first career start. Not only did the pieces around him look entirely different and better with him at the point, but Girard himself exploded for a team-high 24 points in just 31 minutes of action. The youngster missed just one shot (7-8) and was 6-for-7 from beyond the arc in the W while also knocking down all five free throws he attempted.
If there were any questions about Girard’s ability to score at the college level against better and more athletic defenders than the ones he saw in Class B ball at Glens Falls, this game helped put those questions to bed. On that night inside the Dome, he was the undoubted star of the show and looked every bit the part of a future star. He’d capture that kind of star quality a few more times throughout the year (a career-high 30 against NC State), but this 24-point outing stands above the rest not only because of the efficient clip at which it was done but because of he pressure that was on him before and during the game. Dude was a stud.
3. Feb. 29 – Bourama Sidibe vs North Carolina
This performance is the only one on the list that came in a losing effort but we still had to give it some love because this thing came absolutely out of nowhere. Going up against one of the most physically imposing and talented interior teams in the conference, you would have thought that a guy like Bourama Sidibe, who had been so maligned throughout the season by just about everyone, would have fallen flat and fouled out almost instantaneously without making an impact. You would have thought wrong.
Sidibe was essentially the lone bright spot in the Orange’s loss to the Tar Heels and put together a season- and perhaps career-best performance. The junior big man went for 17 points and 15 rebounds, both of which were season highs and just one point/rebound shy of the career mark he set against Pitt as a freshman in 2018. Quite honestly, he looked like a man possessed going up against the likes of Garrison Brooks and Armando Bacot, reeling in 5 offensive boards while adding 6 blocks and a steal to his already impressive stat line.
This performance felt like a bit of a game-changer for not only Sidibe on a personal level but also for the sentiment surrounding him heading into his senior year next season. In his last six games of the season, Sidibe tallied three double-doubles (he had just one before that), recorded double-digit rebounds in every game during the stretch and sported this stat line: 9.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 2.3 spg. If that’s what you’re going to get on a game-by-game basis from Sidibe next season, SU fans are going to jump for joy and can thank his dominance against UNC for at least some of it.
2. Jan. 18 – Buddy Boeheim @ Virginia Tech
When you think of Buddy Boeheim, your mind immediately goes to three-point shooting. That was his MO coming into the season and is still a massive part of his game. He finished first in the ACC in both three-point field-goal percentage (37%) and three-point field goals made per game (3.0). He’s a sniper by trade, but this year he added a lethal free-throw-line, pull-up jumper and some really impressive inside moves to his game. All of that was on display in a mid-January revenge game against Virginia Tech.
Buddy poured in a season-high 26 points in a win over the Hokies and came out absolutely scorching in the first half. He scored 18 of his 26 in the first frame. After missing his first two shots, Buddy hit his next six in a row to go on a 15-0 run all by himself and put SU in the lead for good. Keep in mind, that 15-0 run all happened in less than four minutes of game time. He literally looked like a scoring machine that Virginia Tech had no way of stopping. Everything was dropping left and right. At one point, he hit a jumper over VT’s Hunter Cattoor and ran back on defense shaking his head and saying, “He can’t guard me”.
When Buddy is going right and knocking shots down, he’s incredibly difficult to stop. The addition of a few extra elements to his game outside of the three-point shot was going to be the difference between him being just another good shooter or him being a legitimate second scoring option alongside Elijah Hughes. This game against the Hokies proved that he had those additions in spades and had the capacity to be an elite scorer. He wound up finishing the year 12th in the ACC in scoring and is going to be even more dangerous next season.
1. Dec. 7 – Elijah Hughes @ Georgia Tech
Could it really have been anyone else? He was the best player on the team throughout the year and was the first All-ACC First Teamer for Syracuse since Michael Gbinije in 2016. Honestly, it would have been a little weird if Hughes didn’t fill the top spot on this list.
In a contest that slotted in the fifth spot in our countdown of the best games of the 2019-20 season, Elijah Hughes put together the No. 1 performance of the season. Eli poured in a career-high 33 points in a dominant win over the Yellow Jackets and was flat out unconscious in the first half. He scored 26 of his points in the game’s first frame and had already hit four triples by the time the first media timeout came about four minutes into the game. Yeah, the dude literally had 12 points in the first four minutes. He wound up shooting 10-15 from the floor and 6-for-11 from beyond the arc while nailing all seven of his free throws and adding five rebounds and four assists to his ledger. To add a cherry on top, he did all of that in just 34 minutes. The guy almost scored a point a minute. That’s B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
In a year filled with so many ups and downs, Elijah Hughes was always the one constant for SU. Just three times did he score fewer than 11 points in games that he didn’t miss significant time in. He scored at least 15 points in 25 of the 32 games he played in. He was the model of what a superstar could and should be and the 33-point effort against Georgia Tech was the absolute perfect storm to show everyone exactly what he was capable of. It’s hard to imagine anything else in the top spot of this list.
We’ll continue to unveil our top five lists in the coming days and weeks. Click here for the rest of the lists and relive the 2019-20 Syracuse basketball season with us.