Two orange ships heading in different directions passed one another in Champaign, Illinois tonight. One of them is staying a steady course towards Tournament Island, while the other capsized last March and is already taking on water on its subsequent journey.
The prognosis for the latter vessel – Syracuse (3-4, 0-0 ACC), captained by Jim Boeheim – is grim. SU was thoroughly outclassed 73-44 by Illinois (6-1, 0-0 Big 10) in the final edition of the current ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The Fighting Illini represent the best team SU has played so far, and the distance between the two programs looked cavernous.
Just three days removed from its lightweight bout against Bryant, Syracuse came up small against Illinois in all facets. The Orange were short on shooting (28.7% as a team), guard play (combined 3-for-19 from its backcourt) and composure (17 turnovers and another player ejection to boot). Throw that descriptor onto Jim Boeheim’s extra-short wind sprint of a postgame press conference, too.
Syracuse’s demoralizing loss didn’t start badly. The Orange hung around with Illinois for most of the first half and trailed 30-23 at halftime, helped along by cold shooting nights from the Illini’s backcourt. Senior Terrence Shannon (5-for-17) and freshman Skyy Clark (0-for-10) both labored from the field. As late as the 15-minute mark in the second half, SU trailed by just five to a Fighting Illini team billed as more talented, athletic, and experienced.
However, a three-pointer from Illinois guard R.J. Melendez put the Illini up 38-30, and the game tangibly shifted for good. Illinois ended the game on a 35-14 run, punctuated by a 13-2 burst over the final three and a half minutes of the game. For a team as young as SU, the loss is a measuring stick and a display of its youthful inconsistency – but the Orange still failed to pass basic tests of fluency.
SU looked discombobulated most of the night, and no player exemplified it more than Joe Girard. The senior’s glacial shooting display (0-for-3 in 20 minutes) brings his shooting receipt over the last three games to 2-for-25. Without Girard, SU’s other shooters like fellow guard Judah Mintz (3-for-16, 9 points in 34 minutes) and forward Chris Bell (3-for-9 in 27 minutes) scuffled.
With Mintz and Girard on ice, no SU player finished with more than nine points in the contest. Center Jesse Edwards racked up 17 rebounds to register a positive, but was bottled up on the offensive end to the tune of 3-of-9 shooting. In the final minutes, SU’s disorganized play and Benny Williams’ ejection (a technical foul for shouting at an official) put an embarrassing exclamation point on the loss.
The Orange are back in action this Saturday for their ACC opener against Notre Dame. Tipoff from Purcell Pavilion in South Bend is at noon on December 3.