Orange Nation got a glimpse what life without Elijah Hughes may look like. It is going to take his teammates to step into unfamiliar roles.
Every year, as long as Jim Boeheim has stood courtside, SU has always had one guy that is the offense’s centerpiece…the one player that can light up the scoreboard to lead his team to the win.
Against North Carolina State, the 44-year Hall of Fame coach didn’t have his main guy and it prompted him to alter his game strategy on the fly.
When Hughes, the junior transfer from East Carolina, was injured in pregame warm-ups, Boeheim was forced to use his bench players perhaps a little more than he wanted.
“It was very disappointing not having him tonight,” Boeheim said during a brief post game press conference after the Orange lost a much-needed, very-winnable game.
“They battled as hard as you can ask them to battle.”
While Hughes, the second-leading scorer in the ACC, played his best assistant coach role next to Boeheim on the bench, SU relied on freshmen Joe Girard III and Quincy Guerrier to run toe-to-toe with the experienced squad from Tobacco Road. Throw in the fact Buddy Boeheim had an un-like Buddy game, it put more pressure on the young Orange.
While his all around game is evolving, Girard, who finished with a career-high 30 points, only connected once out from downtown. He ran the offense admirably and only committed one turnover against an aggressive Wolfpack defense.
In a somber locker room afterwards, Girard accepted responsibility.
“It was just one of those games,” Girard admitted. “I need to make those shots.”
Guerrier, who stepped into Hughes’ spot on the floor, played 37 minutes and contributed a career-high 16 points along with 10 boards. After recording his most court time this year, the 6-7 Canadian knows there’s an uncertainty around Hughes’ availability in the short term.
“Everyone has to step up and keep working,” Guerrier said.
Marek Dolezaj, who played an impressive full game, said he is focused on getting better every day and this is important if Hughes is out for an extended period of time.
“He is our best player,” Dolezaj said. “We have to learn from this and get ready for Florida State.”