The No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks handed Syracuse basketball their first loss of the season last night, but the game was far closer than the score suggests.
The 2017 Syracuse basketball squad is much tougher than most teams we’ve seen under Jim Boeheim. What separates them from other Orange teams under Boeheim is that this team rebounds the basketball consistently, and shows no quit. Saturday night was the latest example of that.
Had Syracuse hit their shots last night, they would have beat Kansas, it is that simple. The Orange shot just 32% (18/56) from the field, while Kansas converted an efficient 49% (27/55) of their shots.
Despite allowing 76 points, Syracuse’ defense played well last night. The Jayhawks entered the contest shooting 45% from three-point land, and the Orange limited them to 36% (11/31).
Had senior point guard Devonte’ Graham not hit three after three from practically half court, this game could have easily turned out differently.
For the second straight game, Syracuse allowed an opposing player to hit seven three-pointers. You can’t blame the zone for that, as these three-pointers were either well contested, or from nearly half court.
What has plagued Syracuse year after year is their inability to convert from the free-throw line. The Orange had 13 more free throw attempts than Kansas, but only hit 7 more than the Jayhawks.
Syracuse’ hustle is contagious
The Orange continued to crash the boards last night, outrebounding the Jayhawks 36-31, and 15-
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7 on the offensive end. Syracuse had nine steals last night, five more than Kansas.
Syracuse’ strong defensive play gave them plenty of chances to give the Jayhawks a run for their money. However, because they missed shot after shot, they let Kansas get away with murder.
Syracuse’ backcourt of Tyus Battle and Frank Howard are forced to carry the load on offense night in and night out. The second they are off, this team is in trouble. Syracuse’ backcourt certainly kept things closer than most thought last night, especially after a shaky first half.
The Orange trailed the Jayhawks just 35-21 at the half, but found themselves down 21 three minutes into the second frame thanks to a plethora of three-pointers from Graham.
Syracuse has no quit
Most team’s would’ve given up at that point, but not Syracuse. Led by Battle and Howard, who both had strong second half performances, the Orange cut the lead to 49-42 with 15 minutes remaining thanks to a 16-2 run.
Then Graham took over, and Syracuse’ momentum disappeared. The senior guard nailed a three-pointer and was fouled on a three-point attempt less than a minute later. Graham hit all three free throws and put the game out of reach.
Battle scored 22 hard-earned points on an uncharacteristic 7/20 shooting, plus he had three rebounds, and two steals.
After committing three fouls in the first half, Howard balled out in the second half, finishing with 15 points and seven assists on 6/14 shooting.
Freshman Oshae Brissett almost finished with yet another double-double, scoring 13 points, grabbing nine rebounds, but shot a brutal 3/13 from the floor. The first year player out of Canada certainly hasn’t shot well but has more than made up for it with his effective defensive play through seven games.
In a year where Syracuse was supposed to be a laughingstock, their youth has silenced the critics. Aside from Battle and Howard, Syracuse’ core is full of freshman. Syracuse’ 6-1 record thus far has been exciting, just wait until the 2018 season, when five-star recruit Darius Bazley, four-star recruit Jalen Carey, and Jim Boeheim’s son Buddy stroll into Central New York, and join Syracuse’ young core.
The Orange have been doing everything right, and there is no reason to believe that this team won’t be making a deep March Madness run this year, and in the years that follow.