Brandon Triche took one dribble from the top of the key and fired away from 20 feet. The shot was wide right and clanged off the side of the rim. But instead of falling to a potential rebounder, the ball kissed the top of the backboard and dropped through the net.
The shot, taken out of context, was insignificant. It came with 8:35 left in the second half and with Syracuse dominating the Dragons 68-43. The game had already been decided, and the Orange was well on its way to a 93-65 win.
But it represented a lot more, given the type of season that Triche has had.
Over the past few games, Triche has been shooting the ball well and getting those kinds of shooter’s rolls. That couldn’t be said during the first half of Syracuse’s non-conference schedule, when those types of shots weren’t falling.
“I hit a little slump early,” Triche said.
“Little” was probably a generous adjective.
Over six games starting from Nov. 21 against William and Mary to Dec. 7 against Michigan State, Triche went 0-for-13 from downtown and was shooting 36 percent overall from the field. Triche was also struggling in other areas of his game, averaging just 3.2 assists compared to 2.6 turnovers.
It was a far cry from Triche’s freshman year, when he shot 40 percent from downtown and 50 percent overall.
“In the earlier part of the season, school was going on and I was stressed out about that,” Triche said. “But with school being over, I am able to just play and focus on that.”
Perhaps school was a part of it, but another part was Triche’s adjustment to his new role on the team.
Last year, Triche’s role was clearly defined as the starting unit’s point guard. His job was to have the ball in his hands to start the offense and distribute appropriately. This season, with scorers Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins now gone to the NBA, Triche has found himself in unfamiliar territory.
Triche moved off of the ball after teammate Scoop Jardine was promoted to the starting lineup and assumed ball-handling duties. Logic dictates that if Jardine is the point guard then Triche is the shooting guard.
But as the season has gone on and the team has started to understand its capabilities, Triche has benefited from a lack of a defined role.
“You have to understand this debate here,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We have two point guards. Scoop may bring the ball up. But I can bring the ball up. Anyone could bring up the ball if there’s no pressure, which there is no pressure. Once we get to the attacking zone, both guards become point guards.”
So while Triche may be playing off the ball in the initial part of the half-court set, things change quickly after Jardine makes the first pass.
“When the ball is in [Triche’s] hands he is now a point guard,” Boeheim said. “We screen for him. Sometimes he doesn’t need a screen. He can penetrate on his own. We don’t need to designate. They’re guards.”
More importantly, Triche, Jardine and reserve guard Dion Waiters have bought into that idea.
“All of us have the ability to get us into our offense, make plays and find the open shots,” Jardine said. “Coach [Boeheim] is right, there is no definition point guard out there this year.”
How does having more than one point guard on the floor help the Orange?
“It makes us a lot more dangerous because we can swing the ball out to the wing and still have a ball handler,” Jardine said. “I can swing it to guys like Brandon [Triche] or Dion [Waiters] and you know they can handle the ball. It is a really big plus for our team and what we can do.”
It took a majority of the non-conference schedule to discover that, but now Syracuse, specifically Triche, have finally figured out how to exploit that.
In a 100-43 win over Colgate on Dec. 11, Triche scored 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting in just 17 minutes.
“I think going further, my stats are going to rise,” Triche said after the Colgate game. “I think in the upcoming games, you’ll see me knock a few more threes down.”
It was a spot on prediction.
Since the game against Colgate, Triche has averaged 11.7 points and 5.0 assists per game to just 1.2 turnovers. He’s also shot 6-for-13 from downtown.
“I’m at ease with myself and I am not stressing myself out as much,” Triche said. “It’s great because you want to be playing your best basketball against conference play.”
Wesley Cheng is the Editor-in-Chief for The Juice Online.