Jim Boeheim had never entered the month of February under .500 in his 46-year coaching tenure, but last night, it was a forgone conclusion that the hall of famer finally would, but still had one more chance to creep closer to that even win-loss record mark. The 9-11 Orange took full advantage of that opportunity in their biggest ACC win of the season, both in terms of importance and margin, in a 22-point annihilation of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 94-72.
But the tides weren’t always in SU’s favor, in fact, Wake Forest outplayed Syracuse in the first half. The Deacs shot 53% from the field in the first 20 minutes with senior guard Daivien Williamson leading the charge with 17 first half points. That, coupled with a 7-15 clip from downtown propelled Wake to a 42-39 halftime advantage. However, the Orange’s 39 was more impressive than advertised. SU made half of its field goals and three-pointers to reach that mark, and the Boeheim bros had a combined 20 of those tallies at the break.
It was only the third time in the last nine games that the Orange trailed at the half, a stretch where the Cuse were previously 2-6 in to start the new year. But this contest had a completely different outcome in the final 20 minutes.
Syracuse blitzed Wake to open up the half, outscoring the Demon Deacons 16-5 in less than five minutes. A 55-47 lead ballooned to 69-50 following a Cole Swider dunk, and extended the second half margin to 30-8 halfway through the final frame.
From then on, the Cuse obliterated Wake while simultaneously thwarting its North Carolina visitors on the offense end. Wake Forest turned it over eight times in the opening ten minutes, in which Syracuse turned into 12 backbreaking points.
“I just thought we were a little more active and a little quicker to the ball. We just haven’t played that kind of defense and that’s why we’re in the predicament that we’re in, and we just try to keep improving as we move forward.” – Jim Boeheim on second half defense
But defense aside, the offense was spearheaded by a season-high 30 points from Buddy Boeheim. The senior notched 19 points in the second half, but more importantly, scored and/or assisted on 14 of SU’s first 20 buckets to open up the half. It encapsulated the senior’s overall impact on the game, as the local product finished with a remarkable stat line.
But what made this win so sweet for the Orange goes beyond Buddy’s other-worldly effort.
“I think tonight we had the best balance. I though our offense even in the first half was really good, we looked for each other . We’ve been a pretty good offensive team all season, but I thought tonight we were the most balanced overall. It wasn’t just one or two, it was five guys.” – Jim Boeheim
Four SU players scored in double figures, including Cole Swider, Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards. This was pivotal for an Orange team that has only lost one game this season when four or more players eclipse the ten point threshold. Out of the bunch, Swider stood out. The Villanova transfer flipped his combined 9-of-31 from the field over the last three games into an 8-for-11 shooting performance which included a pair of triples. It’s his first 18+ point game in over three weeks.
“Cole, it was the best he’s played. I thought (he) got into his spot better than he has all year. He’s been getting to (his spots) and not shooting it, but tonight he shot it. This is the way I feel he can play, the way he played tonight.” – Jim Boeheim on Cole Swider’s 18-point outing
Even with these offensive outbursts, and the Orange scoring a season-high 55 second half points, Jim Boeheim stressed the measly 30 that the Demon Deacons mustered just a little more, and rightfully so. Syracuse forced 17 turnovers in the game, to its lowly five, and as a result, Syracuse turned those takeaways, which embodied 10 steals, into 19 total points.
That rise in defensive intensity didn’t solely benefit SU, but had an immediate carryover effect on WF, as the Deacs shot just 42% in the final 20 minutes and attempted less shots, compared to the first half, as well.
“Defense was key, we were just better. We’ve said it all year, and it’s pretty common knowledge, we just haven’t been as good defensively as we need to be and this was a really good outing and hopefully we could carry this forward to NC State” – Jim Boeheim
This win could mean a majority of things: either the Orange have turned the corner or the ACC is so inconsistent that a 17-4 Wake team can lose at any juncture to a belittled SU squad.
But right now, that should be a farfetched thought in the mind of Fizz Nation and the Syracuse faithful. This season, wins are scarce, so any glimpse of this group’s potential and possible ceiling is a positive. It also helped that NBA champions Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, as well as 23,000+ fans (the largest in college hoops all season), were on hand for a game that might spell a change of fortune for the Cuse in the month of February.