Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The first time Syracuse played Virginia this year, Buddy Boeheim was in the worst shooting slump of his college career.
The junior guard had seen dips in his shooting form before, but he was south of 30% for the year from 3. In the opening four possessions of that January meeting, SU went to Quincy Guerrier three times in the post. Head coach Jim Boeheim built the offensive game plan against the Virginia pack-line defense by getting the ball inside to Guerrier.
When the Orange played this pack-line defense, Buddy made 1-of-7 from deep and turned the ball over five times, and the Orange were blown out 81-58. As a team, Syracuse made 5-of-23 from beyond the arc and came nowhere near the Virginia shooters. As a team, the Orange hovered around 30% from beyond the arc.
Fast forward to March, and Buddy has been the Orange’s best player during the last 10-day stretch that saw Syracuse vault itself from dead and buried in NCAA Tournament conversation to the forefront of bubble talk entering Selection Sunday. Buddy’s game-tying free throws in the final minute secured a career-high 31 points. The game’s final play — a Reece Beekman 3 at the buzzer — ensured that Buddy’s career afternoon would be in defeat. Beekman’s 3, his eighth of the year, pushed No. 1 seed Virginia (18-6, 13-4 Atlantic Coast) past No. 8 seed Syracuse (16-9, 9-7) 72-69 in the ACC quarterfinals on Thursday.
The Orange will now wait until Sunday to find out if they’re headed to the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, which begins March 18. Syracuse is on the bubble because of Buddy’s improved play down the stretch run, where his 3-point shooting percentage has risen from the 20s to 37.3%, slightly better than last season’s 37% mark.
“He’s been tremendous the last seven games,” Guerrier said. “He’s been playing his best basketball right now, and I’m happy for him.”
Once Buddy made his first two shots — the second being a 3 to cap off Syracuse’s 7-0 start on the defending national champions — the Orange’s offense made sure to keep looking for their sharpshooter.
Virginia lost track of Buddy multiple times in the opening 10 minutes of the game. Buddy’s 15 first-half points propelled Syracuse to 39 first-half points against Virginia head coach Tony Bennett’s defense. The Cavaliers typically hold opponents in the 20s, sometimes even lower. Bennett started with Beekman onto Buddy to hound him around the court.
“We just tried to run him off his shot because he’s a great shooter,” Beekman said. “He got going today, he hit some tough shots, so we just tried to contest everything.”
On one possession, Virginia switched 5-foot-9 guard Kihei Clark onto Buddy, and Clark picked his pocket. Late in the second half, the ball deflected off the junior’s hands as he came off a ball screen for a turnover. Otherwise, Virginia couldn’t stop Buddy.
Beekman’s quick feet and 6-foot-3 frame tried to keep Buddy out of the lane, but the 6-foot-6 guard just shot over him. Bennett switched 6-foot-9 forward Trey Murphy III onto Buddy to throw a longer defender at him, but Buddy beat him off the dribble and hit a pull-up jumper.
“I can’t even describe Buddy’s play,” Boeheim said. “They had a guy all over him the whole game. They were holding him and pushing him the whole game, and he was tremendous.”
The Orange broke the pack-line a few times in the opening frame because of the attention being paid to Buddy. He dished out three first-half assists, and Virginia’s focus on Buddy allowed Robert Braswell to sneak down underneath and finish off two dunks after passes from Joe Girard III.
Each time the Cavaliers looked to pull away and expand their lead beyond four points in the second half, Buddy found a basket or drew a foul. Kadary Richmond grabbed an offensive rebound and found Buddy wide-open at the top of the key. His attempt didn’t even touch the rim as it swished through to tie the game at 59.
Buddy answered Virginia forward Sam Hauser’s 3 at one end with a turnaround jumper at the foul line over Beekman, with Beekman contesting his right hand in Buddy’s face. Virginia stretched its lead to six points after that, the largest of the entire game.
Trailing 67-61, Buddy made a short jumper in the paint to keep the Orange in the game with 1:45 to go. After 38 minutes of UVA ball pressure, Buddy tried to beat the UVA defense off the dribble in the game’s final possessions. Both times, Clark waited to Buddy’s left for a potential drive with Murphy shaded to his right.
The Orange have been so balanced in their scoring this season that it hasn’t always been clear who will take the last shot or have the ball in the final moments of games. On Thursday, Buddy drew two separate fouls on Murphy, made all four free throws and tied the game. Then, Beekman won it and ended the Orange’s chance for an upset win that would have clinched their NCAA Tournament spot. But Boeheim still thinks they’ve done enough to get in.
“I think if you watch us play today and you don’t think we’re a tournament team or watched us yesterday — I mean, we’re a good team,” Boeheim said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Boeheim said after the Virginia loss in January that, if the Orange could get one more made 3 out of his son per game, Buddy’s percentage could rise back into the 30s and the offense would improve. Now, Syracuse is getting a lot more than one more made 3 per game from its best scorer. And its offense is playing some of its best basketball of the season in the sport’s most important month.
Even if it ultimately wasn’t enough against the ACC’s best team on Thursday, Syracuse scored more points against Bennett’s pack-line than it has in 11 previous meetings.
“You couldn’t ask anything more out of a player than what he gave us today,” Boeheim said. “I haven’t said much about him because I think his play speaks for itself, but I mean, he was phenomenal today.”
The post Buddy Boeheim’s career-high 31 points not enough as Syracuse loses to Virginia appeared first on The Daily Orange.