WINSTON-SALEM, NC — While ACC play may be coming to a close, Elijah Hughes demonstrated in a 79-54 win over Wake Forest that it is never too late in the season to try something new.
For much of the season, the junior has shown a clear preference for shooting from the 3-point line. Before Wake Forest, 201 of Hughes’ 314 field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, with an overall shooting average of just over 40 percent.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has been urging Hughes to evolve his game and attack from different parts of the court. On Saturday, Hughes heeded his coach’s advice, scoring 18 points on 8-12 shooting from the field, with seven of those field goals coming from 2-pointers.
“Coach wants me to attack gaps better and to read the defense,” Hughes said. “I saw a lot of openings today, so I just tried to get in there and make things happen.”
Hughes went to work on the inside early in the game. Of his six field goal attempts in the first half, only one came from 3-point range. Hughes finished the half with six of his nine points in the paint.
“I’ve been telling him all season to get to the basket,” said Syracuse guard Tyus Battle as he make eye contact with Hughes. “He finally did it, and it was good to see.”
Hughes continued to find success inside the arc throughout the second half. Opening up the half with an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Frank Howard, Hughes and the Orange began to pile on a commanding lead against the Demon Deacons.
After Wake Forest pulled to within 40-35 out of intermission, Syracuse’s 2-3 zone stymied the Deacons, holding them without a field goal over 13 minutes to take a 67-39 with six minutes to go.
“It was cool. Frank just made eye contact and threw it my way, and I went up and got it,” Hughes said of the dunk. “We have good chemistry, we have been playing together since September. It’s pretty easy now.”
Howard found Hughes three more times for scoring plays, including one 3. However, the majority of Hughes’ nine second-half points came from within the paint.
“Connecting with our guys really made it easy to get in the lane. That was the biggest part of today,” Hughes said. “[Wake Forest] didn’t have a lot of outside defense, especially in the wings and that made a lot of gaps.”
While the game against Wake Forest marked a departure from Hughes’ usual style of play, Boeheim believes that there is still room grow and improve on the inside.
“When we move the ball and get spacing [Hughes] can go, and he recognized that,” Boeheim said. “Later in the game, he tried to go and it wasn’t there. He’s still learning when to go and when to not. It’s his first year playing with us… He’s learning, but I thought he was really good early today.”