The Syracuse University men’s basketball team had lost its previous three games by a combined 49 points before heading to Atlanta to take on Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon.
In defeating the Yellow Jackets, 97-63, that gives the Orange its largest margin of victory against an ACC opponent since joining the conference in the 2013-14 season.
I don’t know if that reflects more on Syracuse, Georgia Tech or that college basketball is weird.
I do know Syracuse needed to win a game, by 34 points or one point, to avoid a four-game losing streak for what would have been just the seventh time in 44 years under coach Jim Boeheim.
The Orange has never lost five straight under Boeheim. Can you imagine the hysteria if Georgetown had the chance to be the first to deliver that lump of coal into Syracuse’s stocking? Alas, it will not.
The villagers can put down the torches for now and the Orange can focus on final exams for a week before renewing a rivalry with the Hoyas on Saturday.
The Sunny Side
Hughes was Huge
It was Elijah Hughes’ world on Saturday and we were all paying rent.
Hughes played like he was shot out of a cannon against Georgia Tech, scoring 12 points before the game’s first official timeout, all on 3-point shots, on the way to finishing with a career-high 33 points. Hughes’ offensive performance marked the most points scored by a visiting player in McCamish Pavilion.
Hughes nearly outscored Georgia Tech by himself in the first half as the Orange led, 48-28 at the break. Hughes had 26 at halftime. He was 10-for-15 overall, 6-of-11 from 3 and 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. He also had five rebounds, four assists and one emphatic block.
Hughes was hitting from right on the 3-point line, from beyond NBA range, on the wings or anywhere on the floor you could point to. He exploded to the rim and dunked on a backdoor cut out of a Syracuse timeout.
“That was pretty good. He just got in a zone,” Boeheim said. “He’s had days like that in practice. He hasn’t really had a game like that this year. I thought he was going to keep making ‘em all.”
“I saw the first two go in and felt good after that,” Hughes said. “To be honest, I don’t really remember,” Hughes said of Saturday’s performance. “I was going unconscious. Like I said, you ever go to a lake and throw rocks in the ocean? You don’t miss the ocean, right? Can’t miss it. That’s kind of how I felt in stretches.”
Hughes was so good that he delivered the knockout blow in Saturday’s game before Georgia Tech knew the opening bell had rung.
Buddy is Back
If there was anyone who needed to leave Atlanta with a solid game in his back pocket, it was Buddy Boeheim.
Boeheim had been struggling mightily entering Saturday’s game, shooting 9-for-37 against Oklahoma State, Penn State and Iowa.
It looked like another tough day was ahead for Boeheim as he started 2-for-7 and picked up two fouls in the first half. Hughes even spelled him at the 2 for a stretch of the first half.
Boom came the dynamite in the second half for Boeheim.
He scored the first 11 points of the half for the Orange and finished the day with a career-high 26 points. Boeheim finished 8-of-15 overall and 6-of-13 from 3-point range. Boeheim’s six 3-pointers matched his career high, which he set just a few weeks ago against Bucknell.
Boeheim got to utilize what he is best at against Georgia Tech in converting several catch-and-shoot looks into points.
Saturday was clearly the most confident and open Boeheim has looked all season.
“Same shots,” Jim Boeheim said of his son’s performance against Georgia Tech. “They just went in. He’s had good shots. We looked at the tape of the Iowa game, Oklahoma State, Penn State. He’s getting good looks. He just hasn’t been shooting it as well as we think he can.”
Bourama and Marek’s Mark
Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj both played like their hair was on fire against Georgia Tech.
Dolezaj got back to the jack-of-all-trades style that endeared him to Orange fans last season as he collected 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals against the Yellow Jackets.
Sidibe was just as active with five points, eight rebounds and five steals. It was the most energetic performance I can remember Sidibe having in a Syracuse uniform, especially since he was slowed by a knee injury last season.
“Bourama is getting back to healthy,” Boeheim said. “He was a big factor today.”
Sidibe and Dolezaj were not intimidated by the presence of Georgia Tech’s big man, Josh Banks III, who got into foul trouble and finished with eight points and three rebounds.
Saturday’s game was a blueprint for how Sidibe and Dolezaj have to play in the ACC. There aren’t going to be too many rosters they run into that they will win a flexing contest with. What they lack in size, they need to make up for in grit, hustle and aggressiveness.
Syracuse’s point guard position certainly can’t be “by committee” all season, but that approach was effective against Georgia Tech.
Howard Washington Jr. may have leap-frogged Brycen Goodine in the rotation at point guard when Joe Girard III needs a break.
Washington dished out eight assists in 17 minutes with just one turnover on Saturday. Boeheim quipped after the game that Washington picked up so many assists because he dished the ball to shooters who were making their 3-point shots against Georgia Tech. That said, Washington looked confident running the point. He brings a little more of a veteran presence to the court. He is focused and more adept on making the team offense flow. Goodine and Girard are score-first guards.
Girard didn’t shed all of his recent baggage at the guard position like Boeheim did against Georgia Tech but made some steps toward doing so. Girard shot 2-of-5 from 3-point range, hitting back-to-back 3s in the second half and dishing out four assists against the Yellow Jackets.
1. Syracuse shot 25-for-30 at the free-throw line (83 percent). Georgia Tech was 7-of-18 from the line.
2. Syracuse assisted on 23 of its 29 field goals.
3. Georgia Tech’s Michael Devoe, who entered Saturday’s game as the leading scorer in the ACC at 23.8 points per game, scored one point in the first half. He finished with seven points on 2-of-12 shooting.
“We just wanted to be there every time he caught it and not give him any space or driving lanes,” Boeheim said. “We did a good job with him.”
The Syracuse defense also held Georgia Tech to 10 fast-break points. The Orange had 21 points on the break.
The Dark Side
The only Syracuse player who didn’t really get in on the action against Georgia Tech was Quincy Guerrier.
The freshman forward played 12 minutes but did not score, shooting 0-of-3, and grabbed only three rebounds. Even in garbage time, Guerrier missed a two-handed dunk when attacking the rim, falling to the court after the ball bounced out. He eventually fouled out of the game.
Girard was limited to 22 minutes against Georgia Tech and drew Boeheim’s ire when he committed a walk that got him yanked to the bench with the head coach saying that his young point guard has to “get those plays out of his system.”
Girard committed four turnovers against the Jackets.
Girard is stuck in a weird place now. He’s an offensive-minded, score-first player but is being asked to run the Orange offense. The growing pains have been evident.
Girard has Boeheim’s confidence and will continue to start at point guard, but the Georgia Tech game showed that his patience has to be thinner when the freshman makes costly mistakes.
This, That and the Other Thing
- Syracuse’s 97-63 win was the second-biggest home loss in ACC play ever for Georgia Tech. A Ralph Sampson-led Virginia team beat Georgia Tech, 85-48 on Jan. 17, 1981.
- Hughes is the first Syracuse player to score 30 or more points in a game since Tyus Battle recorded 34 points against Wake Forest on Feb. 11, 2018.
- Saturday’s game marks the 12th meeting between the Orange and the Yellow Jackets. The series is even at 6-6.