Following a shocker of a loss to Colgate last weekend, Syracuse traveled to the Bahamas with a monkey on its back. After 40 minutes of back and forth with VCU, SU couldn’t find any groove in a 67-55 loss.
The irony starts with that pressure the Orange faced heading into the Battle 4 Atlantis. Many looked down on Syracuse’s defensive ability after surrendering 100 points in a regulation contest for the first time in 12 years. But that wasn’t an issue to open up play in Paradise Island. Instead, the offense fell into quite a rut.
SU shot 24% in the first half and a measly 23% from beyond the arc. This all spurred from poor decision making, way too much dribbling (rather than off-ball movement and swinging the ball) and SU’s inability to establish an interior game. Buddy Boeheim looked okay with a ten point half, but he was the only bright spot for the Orange on offense.
What saved Syracuse was its defensive prowess. Jesse Edwards swatted three shots and the Orange forced more turnovers than field goals allowed (10 TOs, 7 made shots). The zone also played more active than in SU’s opening three contests. Rather than sitting back, Syracuse forced the ball inside and loaded up under the rim to contest shots from close range.
A lackluster first half from both squads carried over for the Orange, but not the Rams.
VCU started the half on a 9-2 run, and ultimately turned a 7-for-27 shooting first half into an 8-for-14 start. That included more points scored within the opening eight minutes than the entire first 20 minutes for the Rams. It only continued as the game rolled along. VCU shot 57% from the field and 5-for-10 from three-point range as well. This outburst was a direct result of Edwards picking up his fourth foul two minutes into the half, as well as the zone’s inability to guard the interior as well as get out to shooters beyond the perimeter. It resulted in three Rams scoring in double figures.
Conversely, the offense failed to find a consistent rhythm. Syracuse shot under 35% from the field and 20% from distance. The ball was often stagnant and found only one or two players before a poor shot, evident by SU’s eight total assists. It also didn’t help that the rim had a lid on it for a few key players. Cole Swider and Joe Girard shot a combined 4-of-23 from the field and 2-of-12 in the final 20 minutes.
Mental lapses and lack of depth crushed the Orange too. Syracuse upped its turnover total from five in the first half to 11 in the second. Also, four players logged over 36 minutes (which speaks to SU’s inept bench play).
The final nail in SU’s coffin regarded the Boeheim brothers. Although they played well on the stat sheet with a combined 37 points, but the two struggled defensively with Buddy manning the perimeter and Jimmy having to fill at the center slot. Plus, both had ample trouble with efficiency. An 11-of-30 (37%) shooting clip for the two is subpar with the knowledge that those two would control a bulk of the scoring output.
A true tale of two halves demoralized Syracuse due to a lack of defensive intensity in the second half and an inefficient offensive showing (The Orange finished with a season-worst 29% shooting clip). It’s now onto the losers bracket in Paradise Island and a date with either Arizona State or Baylor, with a whole lot of questions in store.