Three minutes in the second half proved to be the difference for Syracuse, as they were able to hold off a pesky North Florida team for an 82-70 win at the Carrier Dome on Saturday night. The Orange (7-5) ran off 11 straight points in under three minutes, giving themselves enough breathing room to escape with a victory.
The Ospreys (7-7) proved to be an expectedly difficult foe due to their unusual style, relying exceptionally heavily on the three-point shot. Combined with SU’s 2-3 zone and how it forces long range attempts, North Florida launched a Carrier Dome record 46 shots from beyond the arc, hitting 17 of them. UNF finished the night with nine field goal attempts inside the arc.
The long-range display was not enough for the guests, as Syracuse turned in a more efficient offensive display, outshooingt the Ospreys both inside and outside the arc. The Orange logged 22 assists on their 27 field goals and committed just four turnovers. All told, that led to a balanced offensive performance for SU, as five players reached double figures in scoring.
The game was tight for the first eight minutes as the two squads traded the lead multiple times. Syracuse was first to grab control, hitting on three straight trips for an 8-0 run. Robert Braswell started the streak with a triple from right of center and Joe Girard III followed with a clean three from the left wing. Marek Dolezaj grabbed a long rebound and led Elijah Hughes on a run-out for a lay-up and a 19-13 Orange lead shortly after the midpoint of the half.
North Florida’s J.T. Escobar retaliated by outscoring SU over the next three minutes by a 10-3 margin. Escobar hit a trio of treys, the last the root of a four-point play after Girard fouled him on the shot. The free throw put UNF on top, 23-22.
Syracuse went back in front, but the Ospreys continued to stay close, biting chunks out of Orange leads in three-point increments and eventually going in front by a single point on a pair of free throws at 31-30 with under two minutes on the clock.
The two squads traded pairs of free throws, but Quincy Guerrier closed the opening half with a three-point play on a putback to give SU a 35-33 lead at the break.
Buddy Boeheim hit a three to stretch the margin to five in the opening minute of the second half, but North Florida came back, eventually getting back-to-back threes for a 44-43 edge. Syracuse went up by four, put the Ospreys erased that lead, tying the game at 54 a side eight minutes into the second session.
The Orange then posted 11 unanswered points to take control of the game. Dolezaj drove for a lay-up, then Boeheim got a short pull-up jumper to bounce through the rim. Girard connected for three from the left wing, forcing a timeout from the guests. The break provided no relief, though, as Dolezaj added two foul shots and Hughes scored on a pretty finger roll for a 65-54 SU lead with just over nine minutes to play.
North Florida did not fold, scoring ten of the next 15 points to draw within 70-64 with four-and-a-half minutes to play. Syracuse had one more run in them, though, tallying seven straight markers for the largest lead of the night.
Hughes started the burst by hitting a soft jumper in the paint while fouled and added the foul shot. Guerrier supported that with another three-point-play on the offensive glass and then made one of two free throws to put the Orange in front, 77-64, with 1:50 on the clock.
The Ospreys hit a pair of triples to draw within eight, but Girard, the ACC’s leading foul shooter, tacked on a pair from the line and UNF missed a three, all but ending the game. SU tacked on an exclamation point on their final possession when Hughes tossed a lob to Bourama Sidibe for an alley-oop slam.
Elijah Hughes had an off night from long range, but finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse. Marek Dolezaj fouled out with 5:36 left in the game, but had 17 points, eight assists, and three steals. Guards Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III each hit four three-pointers as they tallied 16 and 14 points, respectively. Quincy Guerrier was a force off the bench, piling up ten points and seven rebounds in just 16 minutes of action.
J.T. Escobar led all scorers with 19 points and six threes, but was a focus of the SU defense in the second half after piling up 16 points in the first half. Carter Hendricksen hit five treys as he rolled up 17 points. Ivan Gandia-Rosa and Garrett Sams each hit three times from deep, adding 11 points apiece to the UNF charge.
SU is off until next Saturday when Niagara visits the Dome. The Purple Eagles (2-8) have dropped their last three games, including a 92-72 defeat at Buffalo on Saturday night. Three different players average double figures for Niagara, led by James Towns, who scores 15.2 points per contest.
Saturday evening’s tip-off is set for 7:00pm Eastern and the telecast will be available on ACC Network Extra.