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When Buddy Boeheim pulled up for a 3-pointer, Virginia Commonwealth’s Vince Williams used his length to reject the shot. Symir Torrence tried to drive, and his layup attempt was blocked in the first half — head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game that he told Torrence driving in the lane like that wouldn’t work. Instead, Torrence needed to beat the pressure.
Jimmy Boeheim had his pocket picked and turned the ball over in the second half, and though VCU couldn’t convert the turnover into points, its defense rejected Jimmy’s shot after he drove in the lane moments later.
“They were obviously … one of the defensive pressure teams we’ve seen, and we knew that coming in,” Boeheim said. “And we gave them some turnovers off our offense that you can’t afford.”
Syracuse (2-2, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) couldn’t successfully dissect the Rams’ (3-2, 0-0 Atlantic 10) defense in its 67-55 loss to VCU in the Bahamas. A poor shooting performance didn’t help the Orange’s case either — they finished 29% from the field and 22% from beyond the arc. SU conceded 16 turnovers, just two fewer than its made field goals. Buddy and Jimmy posted 20 and 17 points, respectively, and Boeheim said Syracuse played pretty well on the boards. But VCU’s game plan of limiting the Orange’s dangerous perimeter shooters led to SU’s second straight double-digit loss.
Cole Swider was 2-of-14 from the field and 0-of-7 from deep. Joe Girard III, who entered the game shooting a Division I-leading 81% from deep, was 2-of-5 from deep. He had six turnovers and zero assists. Even Buddy was 2-of-10 from 3. VCU head coach Mike Rhoades said after the game that the Rams’ game plan was “no 3s, no 3s, no 3s.”
The plan worked. Now, SU will move to the other side of the bracket and face the loser of Wednesday night’s Baylor-Arizona State game.
“We didn’t want (Buddy) and Joe and Cole to just bang 3s — we weren’t going to win then,” Rhoades said. “We take great pride in limiting 3s and making people miss 3s. We want to try to be the best in the country at that. We have athleticism, we have length, and we hawk the ball.”
Foul trouble didn’t help Syracuse’s case either. Center Jesse Edwards had three blocks early on, but by the time 10 minutes remained in the first half, Edwards picked up two fouls and took his seat on the bench.
Backup center Frank Anselem filled in, but he also picked up two first-half fouls. Boeheim turned to his small lineup that shifted Jimmy, a forward, to center. Edwards returned in the second half but picked up another two fouls in five minutes. He was benched once more and later fouled out with five minutes remaining.
Boeheim was critical of Edwards’ performance after the game and said that SU had trouble keeping VCU out of the paint without him. Edwards needed to learn to play more man-to-man-esque defense, particularly when he’s guarding the ball-carrier in the paint, Boeheim said. He did soften the blow by reiterating that Edwards is still learning since he didn’t play much last season but said that “(Edwards) just can’t leave his feet and foul people.”
Jimmy was forced to play center for parts of the second half too since Boeheim said that Anselem wasn’t giving the Orange the defensive “lift” that they needed. Jimmy was beaten on a couple of layups, and in one instance, he was beaten by an over-the-top pass to a player who he didn’t know had snuck behind him. Jimmy said center is a spot he practices “once in a while.”
“We’re a little bit better offensively. We’re able to do more things with Jimmy at center,” Boeheim said. “(But) again, we don’t really want to play him there.”
Without Edwards in the game, VCU strung together passes through the middle of SU’s zone. The Rams connected on a backdoor lob that ended in a dunk. They hit a few crucial open 3-pointers in the second half, Boeheim said, and pairing that along with SU’s inability to score proved detrimental.
The Rams — a team that hadn’t topped 60 points in their first four contests this year — posted 44 points in the second half against Syracuse. VCU’s success stemmed from its strong defense.
VCU’s press forced turnovers and untimely mistakes by the Orange. Swider made an ugly pass that was intercepted during the second half. Jimmy inbounded a pass toward Swider, but there was a defender there to break it up. Buddy stumbled and fell in his own half when pressure was applied, and the officials called a travel. Girard, who shined as a facilitator through SU’s first three games, didn’t have the time or space to function as the Orange’s creator with constant pressure in his face.
“These teams are going to play Jimmy, they’re going to play Joe and Buddy, and they’re just going to make it really hard for them to score — and that’s what happened tonight,” Boeheim said. “The pressure, that kind of pressure and double-teaming is challenging for our guards. We didn’t handle it as well as we need(ed) to.”
And in the final moments, when the Rams had already secured the win, Girard carried the ball up the floor and turned it over with a sloppy pass. VCU turned the mistake into a dunk, and then freshman Benny Williams replicated Girard’s turnover with a poor pass of his own. The Rams dunked once more, increasing their lead to double digits.
And just like much of the rest of Wednesday’s game, SU could only watch as it was outmatched by the Rams’ defensive pressure.
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