Syracuse Basketball: Orange shows a ton of grit, even in defeat

Syracuse basketball nearly gutted out an improbable win after Elijah Hughes got hurt, but the Orange faltered a bit down the stretch.

Syracuse basketball, itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble, faced another group in the same category, N.C. State, on Tuesday night inside the Carrier Dome, with the victor improving its Big Dance resume.

Then, an awful thing occurred, as redshirt junior forward Elijah Hughes, the Orange’s star and one of the premier players in the Atlantic Coast Conference, suffered a left-groin injury during warm-ups and could only compete for a mere couple of minutes.

First and foremost, let’s all wish Hughes, a fine young man, a speedy recovery. I commend him for cheering on and coaching, his teammates for the remainder of this contest. That’s the sign of a leader who possesses character.

Despite not having Hughes in the line-up, the ‘Cuse hung tough with the Wolfpack, as Syracuse held a six-point advantage with fewer than seven minutes left in the second half. However, the Orange put forth several empty possessions in a row, N.C. State hit a handful of timely shots, and the ‘Cuse fell in heart-breaking fashion, 79-74.

Syracuse (14-10, 7-6) is presently paired with the Wolfpack (16-8, 7-6) in fifth place in the league standings, although of course N.C. State now owns the tiebreaker over the Orange. The ‘Cuse possesses a razor-thin margin for error during the rest of the 2019-20 campaign if it wants to re-enter the conversation for an at-large invite to March Madness.

Hopefully, Hughes is back sooner rather than later, because Syracuse is on the road for its next two games, which are against a duo of top-10 crews in Florida State and Louisville. I’m no bracketologist, but in my humble opinion the Orange has to succeed in at least one of those encounters, if not both, to have any realistic shot at dancing next month, barring a run to the ACC Tournament trophy.

I credit the ‘Cuse for not folding after Hughes got injured. At first, Syracuse players looked disjointed without him on the court, but they found their groove and battled N.C. State throughout the evening.

What crushed the Orange is that the Wolfpack connected on 11 made attempts from beyond the arc, whereas the ‘Cuse only saw three shots go in from deep. Syracuse prevailed in the rebounding department, which is terrific.

However, another huge dagger is that N.C. State converted 15 Orange turnovers into 23 points, as compared to the ‘Cuse converting a whopping 19 Wolfpack miscues into just 12 points. That proved a monumental difference in the final outcome, my friends.

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This setback stings, and we’re all concerned about Elijah. I’m proud of how Syracuse fought versus N.C. State, and the Orange has to simply move on and prepare for the Seminoles this coming Saturday.