Five. With Syracuse’s 69-61 victory against Pittsburgh in front of the largest NCAA on-campus basketball crowd (23,711) on Saturday, the Orange posted its fifth consecutive ACC win. This is the first time since the 2016-17 season,that Syracuse has won five straight conference games.
After beginning ACC play with a 1-3 record, the Orange is now 6-3 in the conference, 13-7 overall. Syracuse travels to Clemson on Tuesday to face the 10-9 Tigers, before returning home to the Carrier Dome for the much-anticipated matchup with the Duke Blue Devils, next Saturday at 8:00 p.m.
Can the Orange keep the streak alive? TBD. Here’s what was determined in this game vs. the Panthers.
Several NBA scouts were in attendance to watch junior Elijah Hughes, the ACC’s leading scorer. Perhaps it was scout jitters, as Hughes was held to a season-low 10 points. He was shut out in the first half, as he missed all five of his field-goal attempts, and all three of his free throw shots.
He finally found the bucket with 17:14 left in the game, which gave SU a 36-24 advantage. Hughes grabbed four boards, had three steals and three assists. He also turned the ball over three times.
Hughes helped put the exclamation point on the Orange win with 16 seconds left in the game. Mareke Dolezaj forced a Pittsburgh turnover, and heaved a full court pass to Hughes, who slammed down the dunk to give SU a 65-60 lead.
“There was never a comfort zone in this game at any time,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Our defense was good – that kept us in there, but I didn’t know if we could survive when Elijah (Hughes) and Joe (Girard) both had bad games. But we did.”
Hughes has scored in double-figures in every Syracuse game this season. He may have had an off-afternoon, but these guys didn’t…
Do It All Dolezaj
Mareke Dolezaj stepped up for the Orange, scoring 17 points (behind Buddy Boeheim’s 21 points), and adding seven rebounds. Five of those came in the first half. He was also perfect from the free-throw line, hitting on all seven attempts.
With Syracuse holding on to a 61-58 lead with under two minutes to play in regulation, Dolezaj grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the put-back to put the Orange back up by five.
He then came up with a big defensive play at the basket to force a Panther turnover and completed the long pass to Hughes. He converted two free throws at the end to help secure the win.
“Marek was really good tonight,” Boeheim said. “He’s a really key player for us to be successful.”
Dolezaj has been a key figure in Syracuse’s five-game winning streak, averaging nearly a double-double during that time.
“He’s good at the four,” Boeheim added. “It’s good to have a versatile guy there. We’ve had a few guys that can do some of those things, but he’s a really versatile player. He plays center, he plays forward, he handles the ball, he takes it out. He’s a huge key to what we do.”
Dolezaj said that the team’s five game win streak could be attributed to much improvement on both sides of the ball.
“We are so much better right now because we play much better defense, we play better in the offense, but most importantly, all seven guys who played today all played together. That’s the key to our team’s success.”
No Mystery With Quincy
It’s no secret what freshman Quincy Guerrier is capable of.
Guerrier played a season-high 27 minutes, scoring 10 points and pulling down eight rebounds. He was a force on offense late in the game, when he converted on a Dolezaj miss, followed by a free throw.
“When he’s in there and we’re driving, his man is helping so he’s going to get some opportunities there, and he’s been good there,” Boeheim said.
Guerrier has a physical presence inside which will help the Orange heading into the home stretch of its schedule. Over the past three games, he’s averaged 8.0 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He’s proven himself to be a steady bench contributor since ACC play has started, though the coaching staff knows they haven’t scratched the surface of his potential.
“He’s got to rebound better on the defensive end,” Boeheim said. “He gets down there and didn’t know where to go with it.”
Boeheim also criticized Guerrier’s outside shooting. He’s only made three this season from beyond the arc, and is shooting a ghastly 14.3 percent. Guerrier missed his only attempt from downtown against Pitt.
“I think he’s going to make a three someday,’’ Boeheim said. “I’m not sure if it’s going to be in my lifetime, but he’s going to make one someday.’’