With 7:08 to go in the first half of Syracuse’s game against Georgia Tech on Saturday, guard Joseph Girard III dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds for a turnover, drawing frustrated groans from the crowd.
That play was a microcosm of a first half that saw the Orange shoot 7-26 from the field and head into halftime down 38-27. The energy (or lack thereof) was palpable, both from the team and the fans.
“This was always going to be a hard game to win, especially the way they’ve been playing,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “And when we got off to a bad first half it was really hard.”
Warming up for the second half, the team showed no noticeable burst of energy or focus, and the crowd at the Dome seemed to be steeling itself for Syracuse to drop their fourth straight game.
Then at 19:38 something happened: Girard sunk a 3. Less than a minute later, he scored again. Then Elijah Hughes scored. The team was beginning to heat up on a 7-0 run.
By the time Buddy Boeheim made a pretty jumper with 15:49 left, Syracuse was trailing by just 40-39, and the once listless crowd erupted into roars.
“I mean we were down 11, not that we were really under pressure but it was a crucial time,” Girard said. “When you come out in the second half and you’re losing, those first four or few minutes are crucial. We knew that and we had the sense of urgency of succeeding in what we were trying to do.”
The Orange took off in the second half for an impressive 52 points—one of the best second halves in team history—and the rest of the game was filled with impressive plays:
- Buddy Boeheim sneaks from the corner down the baseline for an athletic layup with 13:08 left to pull the Orange within 3
- With 7:07 to go and the Orange up 54-53, Girard lets off a long bounce pass to Dolezaj who twisted in the air for a layup.
- Bourama Sidibe corrals a Hughes missed 3-pointer with 6:22 to go and sticks in the layup to preserve a 3-point lead
“We are just really resilient,” Hughes said. “We were down double digits, but we showed a lot of heart out there, a lot of pride, and doing what we have to do. Joe got going, and that was big for us. When he gets going, he gets the team going.”
“Seeing Bourama get going always has a special place in my heart. He’s been my roommate for the past three years and he’s been through a lot with his injuries. So, [seeing him] being aggressive and trying to get every offensive rebound, defensive rebound and defensive stop, that’s just great. He can really help us, and you started to see that a little bit… When he gets going, it’s going to be huge for us.”
The difference in offensive performance and energy was drastic. Just looking at total points, Buddy Boeheim improved “the least” at 69 percent. Dolezaj and Girard were both up 400 percent from the first half. Sidibe improved 200 percent.
“This is one of the best second halves we’ve ever played—anywhere,” Jim Boeheim said.
Although the first half of this contest becomes a distant memory, what lives on is the comeback and snapping a three-game losing streak at a critical moment. Syracuse still has four remaining games—Pitt, UNC, Miami, and Boston College—which gives the Orange at least a puncher’s chance at making a case for the NCAA Tournament.
The team’s ability to turn a game around quickly like it did on Saturday will be a key in what’s left of the season.
As Jim Boeheim said with his signature acerbity: “When the ball goes in the basket, the game’s a lot easier.”