Things are getting late early for Syracuse basketball. The Orange are now past the midseason point and just had to choke down another cold cup of coffee in crunchtime, this time in last night’s 76-71 loss to Florida State. Like some of its other close losses this year, SU looked smooth early before sliding in the second half. An embarrassing final sequence punctuated the whole afternoon: with 13 seconds left and trailing FSU 72-71, Jimmy Boeheim’s missed shot and neglected chance to foul after a defensive rebound was immediately followed by Joe Girard’s bizarre launching of a game-ending full-court “pass”. If Girard’s target was the chest of FSU guard RayQuan Evans, he should bail on Syracuse right away and go parlay his pinpoint accuracy into a professional darts career.
That final, errant full-court fling by Girard was the last bad thing the junior guard did in the midst of a rough day. Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton evidently decided Girard wasn’t going to be the one to beat his ‘Noles, and it showed. FSU spent the entire day rotating a cast of characters through its consistent full-court press to deal with Girard, and the junior’s performance tailed off as the game wore on. Girard put up 11 points in the first half but didn’t score a point in the final 20 minutes.
In response to these struggles, Syracuse tried something a little different to combat FSU’s size and tiring pressure. Junior guard Symir Torrence came off the bench to play 15 minutes and give the Orange lineup a different feel and look, and his presence in a smaller, three-guard set gave SU an effective-looking change of pace.
Early on in the game, Torrence entered the game in direct relief of Girard. The two traded places at the 12 and nine minute marks in the first half as SU kept its typical two-guard lineup on the floor. Things changed with 13:28 in the second half and ‘Cuse trailing 55-49. With Torrence already in the game, Jim Boeheim took out forward Jimmy Boeheim and center Frank Anselem for Girard and center Jesse Edwards. The resultant look – a guard trio of Buddy Boeheim, Girard, and Torrence in front of forward Cole Swider and Edwards at the five – led the Orange on a 15-6 run.
The team’s jolt of energy wasn’t smoke and mirrors, and Torrence definitely passed the eye test on Saturday. His statline – 2-4 shooting with four points and four assists – doesn’t blow you away, but his role as a ball distributor and defensive solidifier earned praise across the board, including some from Jim Boeheim.
“We went with a smaller lineup to facilitate getting [the ball] down and Sy did a great job…It frees Joe to get away from the ball a little bit. I thought Symir was really good. He got in the lane, made a couple of buckets, four assists. I thought his defense was good. I thought that lineup was good for us.” (Jim Boeheim, 1/15/22 postgame)
With the Orange now sitting at 8-9 and 2-4 in the ACC, no rotation or combination of players should be off the table as the team tries to keep its head above water. Coming over from Marquette last Spring, Torrence was the unsung addition of SU’s transfer portal crop, ceding attention to Cole Swider’s Villanova pedigree and Jimmy Boeheim’s namesake. If yesterday is any indication, he should be in the mix for more playing time going forward.
Last year, Jim Boeheim had to answer seemingly daily questions about why then-SU guard Kadary Richmond wasn’t playing more ahead of a sometimes-inconsistent Girard. Boeheim didn’t waver from his established starter last season, and Girard’s numbers are up across the board this year – but cold stretches and rogue mistakes like yesterday’s final play may work against him, especially with Torrence potentially heating up in a more established role. It’s possible Boeheim may be answering similar questions this year about Torrence’s playing time if Girard struggles.
Going forward, it’s hard to know if Torrence’s play against Florida State will be a blip on the radar, but it appears the team could benefit from his presence in a smaller lineup. Torrence earned good marks and attention for what he provided in a losing effort yesterday, and SU would be well-suited to continue giving him chances to try and change its fortunes.