Numbers never lie.
Last year’s defensive stats for Syracuse was ugly and pointed to a reason why the team struggled.
The Orange allowed 71.7 points per game in the 2016-17 season, the most since the 2008-09 campaign. Opponents connected on 43 percent of their shots, the worst mark since the 1992-93 team.
It was one of the worst defensive teams that coach Jim Boeheim has led in recent memory. That’s not exactly a good sign for a school that is known for the defense it runs.
But that memory may be a thing of the past.
Syracuse stymied Iona on Tuesday evening in a 71-62 win, holding the Gaels to 36.7 percent from the field.
“That’s not a surprise to me,” Boeheim said. “We’ve seen improvement already.”
One immediate improvement from the opener against Cornell to the second game against Iona could be found in the stat sheet: SU committed just 12 fouls against the Gaels as opposed to 33 against the Big Red.
The Orange was also to frustrate the Gaels with its superior size, causing 12 turnovers.
The smallest player in this year’s starting lineup is junior Frank Howard at 6 foot 5. That kind of length works well in the 2-3 zone.
“We were active, we are long,” sophomore Tyus Battle said. “We kept moving. We made it tough on them and they just hit some shots.”
Still, SU’s defensive performance was far from perfect, especially in transition.
The Gaels play an uptempo pace, and the Orange struggled to keep up at times. Iona turned that into 10 fastbreak points.
“We didn’t get back well,” Boeheim said. “You can’t get beat down the court.”
Syracuse also struggled at times to close out on Iona’s shooters, especially guard Rickey McGill. He made them pay with five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points.
For the game, the Gaels connected on 10 from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t get up a couple of times on the shooters and they made us pay,” Boeheim said. “We didn’t get back on defense and that’s inexcusable. These are all things that we just have to get better at.”
Then again, it’s early in the season, and Syracuse is still finding in all aspects of the game.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Boeheim said. “It takes time.”