James Arthur Boeheim has a reputation for being a bit of a sourpuss. A cranky-pants. A balding, F-bomb dropping, crotchety old man. So I was shocked when I watched him in San Diego at the Battle of the Midway, sporting sunglasses, a sunburn, and smile, as he joked around with Erin Andrews (and possibly pat her on the butt?).
I found myself thinking that perhaps in his old age, Boeheim had finally mellowed out, become zen, found his chi, or whatever—yeah, not so much. In the first half, Boeheim watched James Southerland steal the ball the ball on three consecutive possessions, then fail to close on Princeton’s Clay Wilson in the corner, as he sank a three-pointer, and he blew his gasket! Just like old times.
It wasn’t the only time Boeheim lost his cool. He called 3 first half timeouts to scream at his players for defensive lapses. A defense, mind you, that produced 24 turnovers, including 19 steals and 5 blocks… had Boeheim enraged. His players would take an occasional possession off, give Princeton an open look, and Boeheim would get angry, real angry.And if he hadn’t, well frankly something would be off in the world.
But perhaps Boeheim had reason to be upset. Despite the season high in forced turnovers, Syracuse allowed Princeton to shoot 44.7% from the field and 44.4% from the 3 (when they came in shooting just 29% from 3 in their first three games). It often felt like Princeton’s offense either turned the ball over or got an easy bucket. Boeheim admitted that Princeton was, “smart,” and that, “they move the ball and they have good shooters.” Still, he seemed enraged for much of the game with his team’s defensive effort.
I asked Southerland about Boeheim’s first half irateness. He said that, “My three steals are over. He forgot about them right away. With him, it’s always about the next play.” He went on to tell me that Boeheim was especially angry about the three pointer SU allowed at the end of the first half, that cut Syracuse’s lead to from 14 to 11. James explained that Boeheim was “pissed,” because, “We had 2 fouls to give and we should’ve used those fouls and we should’ve been smarter.”
And it wasn’t just James who drew Boeheim’s ire. DaJuan Coleman, who rebounded the ball well, and showed flashes of promise in the post, was caught out of position early in the first half. Boeheim screamed at him. Just like he did at Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams, Rakeem Christmas, and almost everyone else on the Syracuse roster. No matter what the score was, Boeheim seemed to use every mistake as a teaching opportunity. Or perhaps, just the chance to humble his team. In either case, when Princeton cut the score to 45-39, six minutes into the second half, Boeheim called a full timeout and demanded his team get some stops. They responded, going on an 8-0 run, getting the stops he demanded by forcing turnovers and converting them into easy hoops.
Clearly Syracuse is talented defensively. Triche and Carter-Williams wreak havoc on opposing offenses with their length and quickness. Fair and Southerland have the speed to close on shooters, and the length to get into passing lanes, and Rakeem Christmas and (especially) Baye Moussa Keita, have proven to be incredibly disruptive in the center of the zone. But when a team shoots 15% better than their season average from 3, as Princeton did, there are things that need to be addressed. Southerland took plays off, Cooney allowed penetration, and Dajuan was a defensive liability for most of the game. And Boeheim let them know about it. In a big way.
Because regardless of what the score is, Boeheim is a coach seemingly obsessed with perfection. It didn’t matter that James ended up with 5 steals on the night, Boeheim nearly swallowed an aneurysm as he watched him fall asleep on the wing. And that’s one of the primary reasons he won his 893rd game tonight. It really is always about the next play with him, about getting and playing better. There’s always room for improvement, which means there’s almost always going to be a frown on James Arthur Boeheim’s face.
And we wouldn’t want it any other way, would we?Nate Federman