Syracuse’s defense is improved this season, and the numbers back it up.
The Orange currently ranks 17th in the country in points allowed, holding opponents to 61.7 per game. KenPom has Syracuse at 45th in the country in adjusted defense, a vast improvement from 119th from last year.
But despite the overall uptick in SU’s defensive stats, its Achilles’ heel this year has been on the perimeter.
While Syracuse extended its winning streak against Colgate to 52 games in a 72-58 win, the Orange entered the contest at 176th in the country in 3-point percentage defense (34.5 percent) and Saturday was more of the same.
Colgate went 14-35 from downtown, with Jack Ferguson hitting six 3-pointers to finish with 20 points.
“Their shots were wide open. If they were contested, Coach would’ve been happier with it,” Syracuse forward Oshae Brissett said. “It’s harder when you have four shooters around the perimeter, so we just have to move faster on that.”
Colgate’s spread offense allowed the Raiders to keep pace with the bigger, more athletic Orange.
After Syracuse had raced out to a 16 point lead late in the first half, Jordan Swopshire and Ferguson hit 3s on consecutive possessions to cut the lead to 36-28 heading into intermission.
Syracuse led for double digits most of the second half, but could never pull away completely because of the Raiders’ outside prowess. Colgate cut the lead to 61-54 after—what else—a 3-pointer from Sean O’Brien with 5:45 to go.
O’Brien was one of four different Raiders with a 3, though in some ways, that played into Syracuse’s favor. Colgate attempted 35 shots from beyond the arc, and only 16 inside of it.
“You’re going to give up 3s. Everybody does,” Boeheim said. “The thing you have to remember is that they shot four free throws. Why? They only focused on shooting 3s.”
In contrast, Syracuse diversified its offensive portfolio. The Orange connected on seven of its own 3s, but also were fearless in going to the basket.
Its aggressiveness was handsomely rewarded, with the Orange attempting 22 free throws on the afternoon. Frank Howard and Brissett each attempted seven free throws each.
The contrast proved to be the difference on Saturday.
“If people are just trying to get 3s all game,” Boeheim said, “we usually beat those teams.”