Syracuse defense breaks down late in another close loss

first_img Published on January 7, 2020 at 11:24 pm Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarez UPDATED: Jan. 11, 2020 at 5:07 p.m.Jalen Cone rose for his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 10 minutes left and Virginia Tech down two. The Hokies bench behind him followed the guard to their feet, eyeing the ball. Nearly everyone else eyed the shot too, except for Syracuse’s Marek Dolezaj. SU’s forward had rotated late, crashed into Cone and triggered the referee’s whistle. The ball slipped through the net, and Cone converted the free throw, giving Tech its first lead since the first half. Three nights after allowing a season-high 15 3s to Notre Dame in a shootout loss, the Orange strung together — when considering its opponent — arguably its best 28 minutes of defense this season. But as the final 12 minutes played out – highlighted by Cone’s and-1 – another close game slipped away.  “We’re late getting to the shooters,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We’ve been late most of this year.”In a season where injuries thinned an already thin roster, and potential resume-boosters turned into one ‘what if?’  after another, Syracuse found another way to drop a game it could’ve — maybe even should’ve — won. Though the Orange (8-7, 1-3 Atlantic Coast) contested many of the Hokies’ 3-point attempts (they shot 10-for-36 from deep), late breakdowns sunk Syracuse one step closer to the ACC’s basement. Virginia Tech (11-4, 1-2 ACC)  connected on five 3s in the second half while SU posted a paltry 31.6-shooting percentage in the same period, leading to the visitors’ first win at Syracuse since 1976. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“At the end they really broke it open,” Buddy Boeheim said of the 67-63 loss. “Up until then, our defense was really solid.” The defeat appears more daunting when considering SU’s remaining conference schedule. Matchups with Virginia, Duke and North Carolina all loom larger now, but those games may factor more into NIT tournament seeding than anything. SU center Bourama Sidibe said the Orange reviewed multiple games of Virginia Tech, including their most recent five-for-29 output against Virginia — SU’s opponent this Saturday. They knew the gameplan, and Virginia Tech didn’t bother to hide it during pregame. Forty-five minutes before tip-off, Hokies players in white, long-sleeved shirts shot 3s from nearly every spot behind the arc. Then, 20 minutes later, they practiced some more. This time with defenders mimicking SU’s 2-3 zone. Initially, the Orange quashed Tech’s go-to strategy (43% of Virginia Tech’s points come from deep, the fifth most in the nation per KenPom). For as dynamic as both offenses have proven to be this year, the score at the under-16 timeout read ‘2’ apiece. Between the two teams, there were four missed free throws, one field goal and one SU goaltend.The Hokies’ first 3 came from a set-play after a timeout by first-year head coach Mike Young. After quick passes around the zone, a cutter split Syracuse’s defense while another shooter rotated in his place. SU didn’t account for the second shooter and Nahiem Alleyne swished one. They ran the same play later in the half, this time creating for Cone (game-high 19 points). But those instances were rare. Landers Nolley II — Tech’s leading scorer at 17.4 ppg — shot one-for-11 from deep and Hunter Cattoor, another consistent shooter, went one-for-six. The zone pressed higher and higher, leading to some backdoor cuts for Tech. Still, Syracuse’s offense thrived in the slower-paced contest. SU entered with a rare size-advantage and it paid off, at least in the first half. Guards flung it inside to 6-foot-10 Marek Dolezaj repeatedly, who was often matched up against 6-foot-7 Nolley II. A Hughes dribble-drive and bounce pass to Dolezaj led to a crowd-popping dunk and a timeout. And as it had for most of the game, Tech responded with set-play 3 and a crisp fast break with no dribbles and a corner splash. It appeared as if neither side changed its points of emphasis in the second half. Multiple SU players stated postgame that Tech didn’t change anything too much schematically. The Hokies just executed where the Orange didn’t. The two wings in Syracuse’s zone stayed closer to the orange stripe dotting the arc than the paint, but Boeheim said a handful of Virginia Tech’s key 3s came when forwards or centers were a step too slow. “They got hot, made some shots,” Hughes said. “They got a couple good defensive stops and got it going.” Offensively, the Orange kept attacking the paint. Capable defense from Virginia Tech — SU only shot 43.4% overall — kept the game close. Though Hughes and Girard won more one-on-one matchups than they lost, two costly turnovers sparked the Hokies’ run. A holdover from its nonconference slate: SU couldn’t extend its lead, and the Hokies were waiting to capitalize on mistakes. With just over 10 minutes left, Bourama Sidibe tried to dribble through three defenders and nearly fell to the ground turning it over. One minute later, Cone’s four-point play gave Virginia Tech the lead it wouldn’t relinquish. After Nolley II cashed his first and only 3 from atop the arc, the freshman formed a gun with his thumb, pointer and index finger and cooled off the crowd. Buddy noticed how Virginia Tech utilized more of the shot clock down the stretch. And crisp passes, usually triggered by guard Wabissa Bede in the high-post, picked apart the Orange defense. In the final five minutes, Virginia Tech’s man-to-man sunk in and momentum-shifting 3s from Buddy weren’t enough. Cone sunk his fifth and final 3 of the game, and with 1:41 left Boeheim grabbed his head with both hands. The time ticked down, securing SU’s worst 15-game start to a season since 1968-69, when it started 4-11, and Boeheim was a year away from becoming a grad-assistant.“We just aren’t consistent with what we’re doing,” Boeheim said. “We did a good job quite a bit and then we didn’t. That’s how you lose these games.”CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, it said the Orange played in the Carrier Dome in 1976. The Carrier Dome didn’t exist in 1976. The Daily Orange regrets this error. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img