Syracuse basketball first-half defense is awful again in Duke blow-out

After his team fell, 85-71, to a surging Duke squad on Monday night in Durham, N.C., snapping a three-affair success streak, head coach Jim Boeheim certainly wasn’t altogether happy with the defensive performance put forth by Syracuse basketball, particularly in the first half.

In the Orange’s last two Atlantic Coast Conference clashes, at home against Notre Dame and then on the road versus the Blue Devils, the ‘Cuse defense has allowed 46 points and 52 points, respectively, in the first half. That won’t do.

Yes, Syracuse basketball (13-7, 7-6) made an epic comeback last Saturday afternoon on the Hill against the Fighting Irish, erasing a 20-point deficit in the second half to secure an eight-point triumph.

But falling behind by more than 20 points on the road to Duke (11-8, 9-6), a team that is playing quite well of late, proved simply too much for the Orange to overcome.

Boeheim, in his post-game Zoom call with media members, noted that often ‘Cuse opponents get used to the 2-3 zone and play better against it in the second half. Obviously, that didn’t occur in the encounters with Notre Dame and the Blue Devils.

“In the first half, we didn’t guard the guards” or cover the shooters, Boeheim said, as Duke made a barrage of 3-pointers and raced out to an advantage that Syracuse basketball couldn’t make up.

Syracuse basketball better shore up its defense in the 2020-21 home stretch.

As of Tuesday morning, the Orange possessed an adjusted defensive efficiency of No. 89 on kenpom.com, which is not atrocious, but it’s not stellar, either.

By and large, Syracuse basketball hasn’t had too much of an issue scoring points during the 2020-21 term. The ‘Cuse is one of the higher-scoring groups in the ACC.

The team’s defense, though, leaves a lot to be desired. Boeheim said that the Orange defense was more active in the second half versus Duke, but Syracuse basketball can’t put itself in that kind of position where it’s dealing with a huge deficit.

Both the Fighting Irish and the Blue Devils connected on at least a dozen 3-pointers against the ‘Cuse, and that’s a problem. Boeheim acknowledged that the Orange has to cover the perimeter more effectively.

Away from the Carrier Dome, in particular, Syracuse basketball must clamp down on defense to have a realistic chance of prevailing, Boeheim said, adding, “We have to play better defensively to win. Period.”

Junior shooting guard Buddy Boeheim, in his own virtual call with reporters following the Duke setback, said that in the 2-3 zone, it’s all about communicating with one another, making the right rotations and knowing the opponent’s personnel.

He noted that the Orange can’t make a habit of coming back from down 20 points or more all the time, or even more than the one instance versus Notre Dame. The ‘Cuse will score its fair share of points, Boeheim said, but the team’s intensity on defense has to improve.