”I talked to them about being consistently good, not occasionally great.” – Syracuse head football coach Dino Babers, Wednesday, October 19, 2016
It is one of the more important quotes from the aftermath of the biggest win of Babers’ first season at Syracuse, when the Orange rose up to knock off a nationally-ranked Virginia Tech team.
But, no matter how many times you watched the video in the after that upset, you were likely tipped off by the date that the sentence was not from the viral video locker room celebration speech with the team hanging on his every word.
Rather, that statement came from a rather hum-drum appearance on ESPN’s “Sportscenter,” one in which Babers tried to downplay his locker room words, at times almost looking embarrassed by the attention he had drawn.
His statement, however, is one that the current hero of the Syracuse basketball team, John Gillon, should listen to. The graduate student has shown a flair for the dramatic, ranging from scoring the final 13 points for SU when they knocked off Florida State to his 43-point explosion (including a 3 to force overtime) en route to beating North Carolina State to Wednesday night’s banked buzzer-beater to defeat Duke.
The 3-pointer that sent the Blue Devils home sad, the Orange possibly to the NCAA Tournament, and the Syracuse fanbase hearts aflutter was big, just like Gillon’s second half play in the game. Gillon is receiving heaping amounts from praise from all corners, including his coach, teammates, fans, and the media.
But, we should also temper our enthusiasm due to his highs and lows over the course of the season. Gillon has been huge for the Orange many times this season, but he has also been huge for SU’s opponents, as well.
Just over 72 hours earlier, Gillon was one of the primary reasons the Orange fell short at Georgia Tech, shooting 2-for-10 from the floor, including a 1-for-7 mark from 3-point land. You could almost see the chants of “airball” from the hosts’ student section echoing in his head as he either missed shots or looked hesitant to even pull the trigger.
He also had a bad turnover where he misplayed a ball and let the ball slowly roll away from him without pursuing it at all. The Jackets scooped it up and turned it into a lay-up. That turnover was one of Gillon’s five in a game the Orange lost by a half dozen.
That was the second straight game where Gillon had five miscues, as he also had ball security issues in an overtime loss to Louisville. Most notably, on the last possession of regulation with a chance to win, Gillon drove into the paint against the Cardinals and lost the ball.
That turnover was bad, but the overtime session may have been even worse for Gillon. His name appears nine times in the official play-by-play of those five minutes. Three missed shots, a turnover, and three fouls are among those mentions. Two of the fouls came from trying to extend the game, but he also fouled on a Louisville score and two of his misses came early in the shot clock when it was a one-possession game.
Point guards are stereotyped as savvy players who do not commit bad fouls and impatiently take quick shots instead of looking for good ones.
Point guards are also stereotyped as players who feed teammates in the post when they have good position and a favorable matchup. Tyler Lydon got so few looks down low with favorable matchups against Duke, there are now recordings of almost 30,000 people simultaneously groaning.
This is not to run down Gillon, knocking him from his perch. He also has a list of quality point guard skills in his bag of tricks. Gillon is both quick and fast, a lights-out shooter from the stripe (a Syracuse record 43 straight free throws and counting), and a strong 3-point shooter (41.9 percent on the season, 37.7 percent in his collegiate career).
Instead, it is to remind that bad comes with his good. Had Gillon just been “good” in a couple other games, Syracuse would not have needed him to be “great.”
Gillon was 2-of-10 in the loss at Boston College, the clear worst loss on Syracuse’s NCAA resume.
He missed all four shots he took against Connecticut and shot 4-for-14 against Georgetown, two losses that came by a combined nine points.
Making just 2-for-9 at Virginia Tech, Gillon contributed to a loss that would have been a road win over a top 50 team for the Orange.
All of these are examples where “good” would have quite possibly wiped out the necessity for Wednesday night’s “great.”
Of course, Gillon’s game-to-game volatility is the primary reason he is in the starting lineup. On this flawed Syracuse team, Gillon’s ability to go on scoring binges is a gamble that Jim Boeheim bets on and that wager often pays off.
Again, Gillon has provided some amazing highlights for the Orange this year and winning some games likely would not have happened without him. However, it has not been all sunshine and lollipops.
Is it too late for Babers to have a chat with him?