Syracuse basketball really struggled, somehow came away with Bryant win

Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Syracuse basketball engineered a double-digit comeback in the second half to start its season in the victory column, albeit in a stressful manner for fans.

Perhaps the biggest reason why Syracuse basketball only managed an 18-14 record a stanza ago is due to the team’s ongoing struggles on the defensive end.

Coming into the 2020-21 term, which began on Friday inside a fan-less Carrier Dome amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Orange coaches and players sounded optimistic about the team’s improvements in the 2-3 zone during pre-season practices.

Of course, until games actually got going, such optimism didn’t really seem to matter all that much to ‘Cuse fans. On top of this, two positive Covid-19 tests within the Syracuse basketball program, one by head coach Jim Boeheim, forced the squad to shut down hoops-related activities for basically the past two weeks.

As a result, the Orange only got to practice once, on Thanksgiving, prior to hosting a sneaky good Bryant group on Friday afternoon. I figured that maybe the ‘Cuse might prove a little rusty, and unfortunately my assessment was correct.

Syracuse basketball looked pretty dreadful on defense, especially in the first half before picking it up after intermission, and that meant the Orange would have to come back from a 13-point deficit in the second half to avoid a fairly massive upset in its 2020-21 season opener.

Well, in the end, the ‘Cuse only led this non-conference contest for a handful of minutes, but it led when it mattered the most. But maybe a little luck came into play, which is fine by me.

The Orange missed two front-ends of one-and-one attempts from the charity stripe in the encounter’s waning seconds, and Bryant had multiple chances to go ahead. However, Syracuse basketball made the stops when it needed to, and the ‘Cuse prevailed over the Bulldogs, 85-84, at an eerily quiet Dome.

The Orange moves to 1-0 so far in 2020-21, while Bryant fell to 0-1. Up next for Syracuse basketball is fellow New York state foe Niagara, in a non-conference battle slated for 7 pm on Thursday, Dec. 3, on the Hill.

Interestingly enough, Boeheim played 10 guys in this affair, although four of them carried the load for the ‘Cuse. They are senior power forward Marek Dolezaj, junior shooting guard Buddy Boeheim, sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier and junior small forward Alan Griffin.

Senior Bourama Sidibe, the team’s starting center, left this meeting in the first half with a left-leg injury, per a tweet from Syracuse basketball spokesman Pete Moore. At the squad’s post-game press conference, Jim Boeheim said that Sidibe would have an MRI on Friday evening.

While the ‘Cuse defense did struggle, credit the team for making adjustments and clamping down on Bryant in the second half. That proved huge. Plus, as the Orange managed to get more stops against the Bulldogs after intermission, Syracuse basketball went out in transition more and focused on paint scoring, rather than settling for contested 3-point attempts.

That was a huge reason why the Orange conquered Bryant in this game, Dolezaj said. It didn’t always look pretty – actually, it rarely did – but a win is a win, he said.

I wholeheartedly agree.

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