Syracuse basketball’s growing pains have been particularly painful

Elijah Hughes Va Tech
Jan 8, 2020: Syracuse Orange forward Elijah Hughes (33) looks to drive against Virginia Tech Hokies guard Wabissa Bede (3) during a 67-63 loss at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

From the start, this year’s version of the Orange basketball team was considered a work in progress. Now, with 15 games in the books, the storied program on the Hill has never been under so much scrutiny as it goes through its growing pains.

After its third ACC loss of the season against Virginia Tech Tuesday night, coach Jim Boeheim’s young squad is at the bottom of the conference’s standing.

The four-point defeat may sting a little more because, for the majority of the game, SU was the dominant team against the undersized and just as green Hokies.

As in the case all year in all seven losses, SU had to battle from behind just to have a fighting chance in the game’s waning moments. While Elijah Hughes finally came to life in the second half and first-year big man Quincy Guerrier came off the bench to spark the late-night Dome crowd, this team has too many unanswered questions as it heads into the beef of the ACC schedule.

“This was more about our offense,” Boeheim said afterwards. “You’ve got to score points to win.”

» Related: Jim Boeheim has never had a losing season. That may change.

The offense, led by Hughes, the redshirt junior, was inconsistent. Heralded sharp-shooting guard Joe Girard and Buddy Boeheim, while leading the ACC in 3-point field goals, had difficulty creating space against Virginia Tech’s aggressive defense.

“They are a physical team and we didn’t handle it well,” coach Boeheim said. “We have to figure it out.”

The visitors, fielding a team with three-first-year players in the starting lineup, looked more polished on this night.

SU’s sloppy play in the game’s final 10 minutes was enough for the Hokies to hang on.

Many factors spelled defeat. While Hughes is the centerpiece of the offense, he disappeared for stretches, seemingly to allow his teammates to pick up the reins.

Girard, who is fourth nationally in free throw percentage, didn’t get to the line enough. As the field general, Girard admirably ran the show but it is time his teammates start feeding him the ball. After scoring 20 in the loss to Notre Dame, Girard finished with 12 against the Hokies, with 10 coming in the first half. He made both of his charity throws.

Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe, the junior 6-foot-10 big men, will get a boost from Guerrier, who should garner more court time after his recent performances.

While the scrappy Dolezaj has become a fan favorite for his rough and tumble play, SU needs more offensive consistency. Sidibe just needs to be more aggressive.

There’s no doubt that Buddy Boeheim is a pure shooter. But he had a difficult time in the second half when the Hokies guards crowded the 3-point line. Boeheim is leading the ACC with 55 3-point field goals made yet he converted on 2-of-6 Tuesday night.

“They made it tough for us to get looks,” admitted the younger Boeheim. “We have to capitalize and get better as a team.”

SU will have the opportunity to prove it when the Orange travels to Virginia Tech on Jan. 18 after games against Virginia and home against Boston College.

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John Zych
About John Zych 24 Articles
John is an active freelance writer, photographer and editor. His credits include being an official photographer at the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York Ms. Orange Fan Luncheon and regularly contributing to SU Athletics.com and Eagle Newspapers. Prior to that, he was the managing Editor and journalist for several community newspaper groups from 1985-1997 including the Oneida Dispatch, Eagle Newspapers and Taconic Media (Millbrook, NY).