Syracuse basketball played its best ball of season in 2nd half, coach says

Last week’s agony for Syracuse basketball players, coaches and fans is well-documented.

At Miami, a team that would later knock off then-No. 2 Duke on the road, the Orange held an 18-point lead in the first half and lost by one.

At Wake Forest, one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s premier groups so far in the 2021-22 campaign, the ‘Cuse led by eight points in the second and fell by three points in overtime.

Sloppy turnovers. Poor shooting. Bad defense. Tired legs. Opponents upping the intensity. However you want to slice it, Syracuse basketball came up painfully close, but short, last week.

So when the Orange jumped out of the gates after halftime against Pittsburgh in Central New York on Tuesday night to establish a double-digit advantage, I’m sure plenty of ‘Cuse fans were nervous that our boys would suffer a tight setback once again. I know that I was.

But then Syracuse basketball put together its best 20 minutes of the season.

Rather than fighting tough but failing to come out on top, the Orange stepped on the gas pedal versus the Panthers in the second half to walk away with a 77-61 triumph.

It proved an important victory for the ‘Cuse (8-8, 2-3), as the team seeks to build up confidence and momentum as it entertains a three-game stretch on the Hill, with Florida State up next this Saturday afternoon, followed by Clemson on Tuesday evening.

In his post-game press conference following the Orange’s conquest of Pittsburgh (6-10, 1-4), head coach Jim Boeheim didn’t shy away from saying that the squad’s defense was not good in the first half.

After the break, though, the ‘Cuse had a huge turnaround, Boeheim said.

Granted the Panthers aren’t a great shooting group, but still, it took Pittsburgh a seriously long time to connect on its first field goal of the second half. In total, Syracuse basketball outscored its long-time rival by a count of 42-27 in the second half.

That’s encouraging for a couple of reasons. Number one, a struggling Orange zone only gave up 27 points in the second half. Number two, the ‘Cuse managed to put up 42 points of its own in the second half versus a Panthers squad that is physical and fares better on the defensive end of the floor.

Number three, all of this occurred in the second half, when lately Syracuse basketball has certainly fought tough, but not come away with the results that we all want.

Boeheim said that second-half performance against Pittsburgh is the best that the Orange has played in the 2021-22 stanza, “by quite a lot.”

The ‘Cuse zone was more active with its movements and rotations, the head coach said. SU defenders did a much better job covering Panthers shooters.

The Orange guards, at the top of the zone, were more effective in stopping Pittsburgh players from penetrating into the lane and also from containing the Panthers’ offensive damage in the high post.

Boeheim also said that the ‘Cuse was precise with its ball movement on offense. He noted senior forward Cole Swider was more assertive in looking to make plays.

Fortunately, in both halves, senior shooting guard Buddy Boeheim got some decent looks and was able to convert from the perimeter and close to the basket.

All in all, it was a really nice performance for Syracuse basketball, particularly in the second half, and hopefully we’ll see more of this moving forward.