Syracuse had been playing with fire for a while now, and it finally got burned in an 84-82 loss at home to Pittsburgh Tuesday night. The Orange once again started slow, as they have for the entirety of this homestand, and mounted a furious comeback late in the second half, but could not finish the deal.
SU had the ball down just one with under 20 seconds to go after Judah Mintz forced a turnover, but he subsequently threw the ball away on an entry pass to Jesse Edwards and missed a potential game-winner after Pitt when ½ at the foul line. It was a painful loss and one that could have been entirely avoided.
The Orange are now down to 111th in defensive efficiency on kenpom.com, after being in the top 100 for the majority of the season. The offense is improving up to 65th, but last night was not good. The starting forwards were bad, again, and Maliq Brown and Quadir Copeland were playing the wing during the comeback from when SU was down 20 points in the second half.
Justin Taylor wasn’t much better. He had a couple of nice buckets but defensively was not up to the level of Brown and Copeland in the second half. Offensively, it was a very weird night. Pitt was making anything and everything from behind the arc, and Syracuse was not. The Orange shot just 1/12 from three in the first half and then a more respectable 5/12 (over 40%) in the second.
It was the Judah and Joe show in the second half. Mintz had a team-high 24 points along with four assists and five steals, while Girard had 16 points and five assists. The latter did not really come alive until late in the game, and Pitt’s defense did a good job limiting him to only 11 shot attempts. Jesse Edwards was a non-factor in foul trouble, with just eight points. But, he did have nine rebounds and six blocks.
Overall, Syracuse’s offense was painful to watch. This is clearly still a team trying to figure out how its pieces work together. It never felt like there was any rhythm or flow to what the Orange were doing offensively all night long. It was either a Mintz isolation, an Edwards post-up, or a pick and roll, and if that doesn’t work someone else makes something happen.
Plus, the lack of shooting or consistent shooting was incredibly evident. Teams are now leaving Mintz alone on the three-point line because he hasn’t shown an ability to knock down shots. He went 2/6 Tuesday, and those were all open looks. Copeland made a prayer of a three (and got fouled), but that’s not his game. Girard made the other three, and a couple of those were terrible attempts that were lucky to go in.
Overall, this offense is so paint-focused, that teams that shoot and have the size to defend inside will force SU to struggle. Bell and Taylor need to figure out a way to stay on the floor more because the spacing they provide on offense is huge. The Orange need a spark, and they don’t have it right now as they move into tougher games on the schedule.