Syracuse basketball tops Niagara in final non-conference tuneup

Joe Girard
Dec 28, 2019: Syracuse Orange guard Joe Girard III shoots from the perimeter against Niagara Purple Eagles at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Syracuse needed less than five-and-a-half minutes to effectively end their final tune-up of the season, using a 17-2 opening salvo en route to a 71-57 victory over Niagara at the Carrier Dome Saturday night. The Orange (8-5) scored on seven of their first nine possessions to grab that 15-point lead and the Purple Eagles (2-9) were never able to work the margin down to single digits. Elijah Hughes led the way for the Orange, doing a lot of everything as he finished one assist and one rebound shy of a triple-double.

Syracuse did what they were supposed to do against the much shorter Niagara squad, winning the battle of the boards by a 46-33 margin. The Orange defense also stifled their guests, as the Purple Eagles shot 32.4 percent from the field and just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.

It was not all rainbows and ponies for Syracuse, though, as they committed 16 turnovers in the game, including ten in the second half. A half dozen of those second half turnovers came in a field goal drought that lasted over eight minutes.

SU rolled up the first ten points of the night. Buddy Boeheim started and ended the streak with triples. Bourama Sidibe got a dunk and Marek Dolezaj added a short putback on the left baseline to fill the middle of the run. After Niagara got on the board, Elijah Hughes connected on a three-pointer from the right corner, then got a run-out for a lay-in. Sidibe tapped home a miss and Syracuse held a 17-2 lead before the game was five-and-a-half minutes old.

The two squads alternated markers for the next four minutes, then the Orange offense cooled. While SU went through a scoreless span lasting over four-and-a-half minutes, the Purple Eagles took advantage, chipping away with six straight points to draw within 26-16 with a little over seven minutes left in the first half.

Syracuse got back on track with an 8-3 run. Boeheim canned a three and Robert Braswell swished one of his own after a Niagara trey. Hughes zipped a pass from outside the arc to Sidibe by the basket for a slam dunk and a 34-19 Orange lead.

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The two teams again traded scores for four minutes with the guests getting the last one, cutting the SU lead to 41-28 at halftime. Syracuse did not allow the Purple Eagles back into the game coming out of the locker room. Boeheim canned two triples and Hughes added a jumper for an 8-2 burst that pushed the lead to 49-30 in the first three-and-a-half minutes of the second half.

The Orange maintained that comfortable margin for the next four minutes and a pair of Brycen Goodine foul shots pushed the gap to 20 at 55-35. Those free throws, however, came with SU already a minute into their field goal drought.

Fortunately for Syracuse, their defense held up and they made some hay at the free throw line, adding sets of foul shots from Dolezaj and Hughes. Their lead was only down to 59-47 when Hughes broke the skid by bouncing in a jumper from below the elbow with just under 5:30 remaining.

Niagara responded with a triple to draw within 11, but Joe Girard III hit a fadeaway from just below the free throw line and his three-pointer on the next possession bounced high off the rim before falling through the net to push the Orange lead to 66-50. The Purple Eagles never got within a dozen points over the remaining time.

Elijah Hughes led the way for the Orange, posting 19 points, nine rebounds, and nine assists. Buddy Boeheim connected on five threes for 15 points. Bourama Sidibe had a big night against the shorter Purple Eagles, finishing with ten points, 13 rebounds, five blocks, and three steals. Joe Girard III had ten points while Marek Dolezaj had nine points, a dozen boards, and four blocks.

Nick MacDonald paced Niagara with 11 points while Greg Kuakumansah and James Towns each added ten. All three double figure scorers did so as reserves and Kuakumansah grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double. Justin Roberts and Raheem Solomon each chipped in with eight.

With the non-conference portion of the schedule complete, Syracuse carries a 1-1 conference record into the meat of ACC play on next Saturday when Notre Dame visits the Carrier Dome. The Fighting Irish (8-4, 0-2 ACC) host Alabama A&M on Sunday before visiting the Orange. Four of the last five Irish games have been against Power 5 conference foes and they have lost three of those contests.

Four different players average double figures in scoring for Notre Dame with John Mooney, a 6’9” senior forward, leading the way. Mooney averages 14.8 points and 13.1 rebounds per game and has double-doubles in ten of 11 contests. Guards T.J. Gibbs, Dane Goodwin, and Prentiss Hubb have each made at least 22 threes on the season and shoot above 35 percent from beyond the arc.

The Orange and the Irish will tip off at 4:00pm Eastern and the game will be televised by either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 623 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.