As the clock ticked down to 1:11 remaining, Scoop Jardine crossed the ball over twice and pulled up. The three he buried gave the Orange a 7-point lead and effectively sealed the win against Rutgers on Sunday.
Syracuse finished the game 5-12 from behind the arc, good for 42 percent, but it was just the second game the team topped 40 percent since January 7. In the 11 games since SU beat Marquette, it has shot a collective 30 percent on 3-pointers. Will the Orange’s struggles from deep haunt them come tournament time?
It wasn’t that long ago that Syracuse boasted three players who played more than 15 minutes per game and who shot over 40 percent on 3s. But since the Orange vanquished the Golden Eagles, Brandon Triche, James Southerland and Kris Joseph have each struggled to maintain that pace.
Of the three, Southerland’s shooting slump has been the most pronounced. Following a hot start against Notre Dame, he is two for his last 21 three-point attempts. His 3-point percentage has dropped roughly 10 points down to 31.3 percent.
As Southerland has struggled, his minutes have fallen. He has played a total of 31 minutes in Syracuse’s last four games, his lowest four-game total of the season by 12 minutes.
As a result – and perhaps due to flagging confidence – his three-point attempts have similarly declined to the point where he had his first games attempting zero 3s against Georgetown and Rutgers.
Triche has fallen into a similar spiral. Since SU’s win against Marquette, he has shot 6-29 from behind the arc (21 percent). Like Southerland, as he has struggled with his shot, he has found himself on the bench more often.
Triche’s 16 minutes against Rutgers tied his lowest total in Big East play, while he sat out the final 18 minutes of SU’s win over Georgetown and the final 17 minutes of SU’s win over UConn.
A vicious cycle has begun: Triche and Southerland struggle with their shooting, and Boeheim plays them less. Their decreased playing time does not allow them the shot attempts to get back on track, and thus they continue to ride the pine.
Most of their minutes have gone to CJ Fair, Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine, who are all worse shooters from outside. The end result is that the team’s percentage has dropped precipitously.
But all is not lost. Even with the recent slumps, this year’s version of the Orange is still shooting a hair better than the 2002-2003 National Championship squad (34.6 percent vs. 34.4). It’s a far cry from 39.1 percent two years ago, but it could be good enough to win a national title.
What made the 2002-2003 squad so formidable was that, despite the team’s mediocre percentage, Gerry McNamara shot over 35 percent and made them when it counted (See: Kansas). This year’s team has two players who appear poised to fill that role.
After a mid-season slump, Joseph has gone 11-21 on 3s, including six important ones in the win against Georgetown. And Jardine, while his teammates have struggled, has steadily raised his 3-point percentage from 29 percent on January 7 to 36 percent after his dagger to seal the Rutgers win.
If Syracuse fans were polled prior to the season about whom they wanted to take a last-second three, Jardine and Joseph probably would not have made the top of the list. But as March approaches, the two seniors are demonstrating that they are ready to make big threes when SU needs them most.