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In the first two games against Duke this season, Syracuse lost by at least 20 points and head coach Jim Boeheim described the contest as a pure mismatch. “We can’t handle Duke — it’s pretty simple,” he said after SU’s 25-point loss on Feb. 26. That day, Boeheim said he was proud to cut Duke’s 30-point lead to as few as 17, but that was as much as Syracuse could do.
Thursday, Syracuse didn’t have its top scorer Buddy Boeheim, who was suspended after Wednesday’s game because of a gut-punch against Florida State’s Wyatt Wilkes. Yet against all the odds, SU’s offense kept its wheels turning in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals, leading Duke for a chunk of the game and staying within arm’s reach for the rest.
Now Boeheim, who’s been at the helm of Syracuse’s program for 46 years, has his first losing season, unless SU plays in the National Invitational Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational.
Here are some observations from No. 9 seed Syracuse’s (16-17, 9-12 Atlantic Coast) 88-79 loss to No. 1 seed Duke (27-5, 17-4 ACC):
Joe Girard III, Jimmy Boeheim play lights-out
Syracuse trailed by 17 and by 14 at halftime in the first two games against Duke, but Thursday, SU led by four points. With 1.9 seconds left, Jimmy Boeheim inbounded the ball to Joe Girard III in the corner. The SU guard knocked down the 3-point shot at the buzzer, raised both arms to hype up the crowd, and then immediately sprinted back to the locker room.
Girard had 18 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field in the first half. He knocked down a long 2-pointer off the glass to start his scoring and later got a 3-pointer followed immediately by a well-executed turnaround jumper from the right wing.
Alongside Girard, Jimmy Boeheim swished back-to-back 3-pointers and got a couple interior shots to fall from close range. During the last Duke game, he subbed out because Boeheim said he wasn’t playing well enough offensively. But Thursday, he finished with a season-high 28 points against No. 1 seed Duke on a miraculous 6-of-9 from deep.
Girard had a personal 10-0 first-half run when he nailed a 3-pointer, and then drew a shooting foul on the next possession for three free throws. He drew another 3-point shooting foul right after that, and went two of three from the charity stripe.
From there, Syracuse kept the game close. Jimmy hit a long 3 at the end of the shot clock and went to work in the second half. He got a baseline 2-pointer to cut Duke’s lead to 72-69 with six minutes left. Syracuse answered Duke’s interior points with 3-pointers or jumpers of its own, and showed incredible efficiency without Buddy, who was the ACC’s leading scorer in the regular season.
Syracuse copes despite even thinner lineup
Right when Syracuse seemed to be getting rolling with four straight wins this season, starting center Jesse Edwards suffered a season-ending injury against Boston College. SU slipped up after that, losing five of its last seven games.
It seemed like that same slip might occur a day after Syracuse played its most convincing basketball of the year, a 39-point victory over FSU, when Syracuse lost Buddy due to a suspension. He had the sixth-highest minutes percentage in the country, per KenPom. But Syracuse hung around for the entire game against Duke.
At the start of this season, Syracuse wasn’t a team that turned to its bench often. In fact, the Orange ranked near the bottom of the nation in bench-production.
Then it got even harder for SU. Edwards fractured his wrist and missed the remainder of the season, and freshman Benny Williams suffered a season-ending lower body injury. Symir Torrence missed time with a concussion. John Bol Ajak suffered what appeared to be a knee injury on Wednesday against FSU, and he played just two minutes against the Blue Devils.
That left Syracuse with a six-man rotation on Thursday. Three Syracuse players had two fouls with three minutes left in the first half. Swider picked up a fourth foul with 15 minutes remaining in the game and was replaced by Ajak, the seventh SU player to see minutes.
The rise of Symir Torrence
Torrence earned his first career start against No. 1 seed Duke on Thursday after posting a season-high nine points and nine assists against FSU the day before. A day later, he played all 40 minutes and broke his assist record (11), despite Syracuse’s season-ending loss.
Torrence’s addition to the lineup — in place of Buddy — served as a first glimpse for what SU might utilize next season in the backcourt. Torrence started playing forward at the bottom of the zone but shifted to the frontcourt midway through the first half. He took over what were previously Girard’s responsibilities as Syracuse’s primary ball-handler.
Torrence made a good cut to the basket in the first half and then dished it to Frank Anselem for a dunk. He repeated that play again in the second half.
Duke’s 3-point looks
Early on, Thursday’s game looked just like the first two Syracuse-Duke games. The Blue Devils knocked down wide open 3-point looks off the bat, starting 6-of-13 from deep by capitalizing on offensive rebounding.
But then the Blue Devils went cold. Wendell Moore Jr. had a wide open look from the top of the arc, with no one SU defender close by to potentially block him. Moore missed that, and then another just like it on the next possession.
The 6-of-13 start turned into a 6-of-21 one from 3-point range by late in the first half. In the second half, the Blue Devils relied mostly on interior scoring via Mark Williams, Trevor Keels and Moore
But up 82-79 with just over a minute left, Moore drove all the way to the baseline and kicked to Jeremy Roach for his fifth 3-pointer of the game. Syracuse fought hard, but it couldn’t do anything after the last 3-pointer, a shot that sealed the game and Syracuse’s season.
The post Observations from Syracuse vs. Duke: Offense impresses without Buddy appeared first on The Daily Orange.