A dozen days and a mere one practice after the Syracuse men’s basketball program came to a halt after head coach Jim Boeheim and another member of the program tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, the Orange opened their schedule. The team looked out of sorts and outclassed early by Bryant, but came back to eke out an 85-84 home victory in the season opener for both squads.
Boeheim used nine different players in the first half, but the team failed to find their defensive footing, trailing most of the session and giving up a 17-3 run late in the half to dig a double-digit hole. After the intermission, Boeheim made just a single brief substitution late in the contest, and the five players on the floor meshed very well after a bumpy first four minutes. The unit held the Bulldogs to just 21 points in the final 16 minutes of play, enabling SU to complete the comeback.
After hitting just under 53 percent from the field and over 47 percent on threes in the first half, Bryant shot just over 34 percent overall and 22 percent from deep after the break. In the final 16 minutes of play, they shot 7-of-26 (26.9 percent) from the floor and 2-for-13 (15.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Syracuse also forced 21 turnovers in the game.
The Orange offense, meanwhile, improved from 32.6 percent shooting in the first half to 51.7 percent in the second. The surge was keyed by 20 points in the paint in the second half, including a dozen from Quincy Guerrier, who was the main inside presence for the Orange after Bourama Sidibe left the game just over four minutes into the action due to injury.
The Bulldogs opened the game with the first six points, setting a tone for the day. Marek Dolezaj and Bourama Sidibe combined to score the first nine SU points and the former beat the press for a lay-up to pull them within 11-9. Following a Bryant three, Buddy Boeheim got a leaner in transition to fall for the heavy lifting of a three-point play and Alan Griffin got his first basket for Syracuse, pulling up for a straightaway three and a 15-14 lead less than five minutes into the action.
The guests promptly went back on top and stayed there for the next several minutes until Griffin connected on back-to-back triples from the right wing around a Bulldog score. The latter trey knotted the score at 27. Dolezaj made a steal on the following Bryant possession and fed Guerrier for a lay-up to cap an 8-2 run that lasted just over a minute and gave the Orange a 29-27 lead.
The Bulldogs quickly grabbed a five-point lead, but SU rattled off a 9-2 burst to go in front once more. Kadary Richmond connected on two foul shots, then Dolezaj swung the ball for a Boeheim three. Dolezaj then banked in a jumper from the foul line and added a floater as a trailer in transition, giving Syracuse their biggest lead at 38-34 with just under five minutes left in the half.
Bryant responded by scoring 17 of the game’s next 20 points to grab a 51-41 lead. The Orange were able to get a three-pointer from Boeheim shortly before the horn, clipping the halftime deficit to seven. SU was able to get within five during the opening minutes of the second half, but the Bulldogs scored seven straight to trigger a 10-2 run and take their biggest lead of the contest at 63-50 just under four minutes out of the break.
Syracuse immediately ripped into that lead, outscoring Bryant 12-2 in the next four minutes. Guerrier did a lot of the heavy lifting, getting a pair of dunks by cutting to the rim and adding a lay-up to cap the streak with the Orange down just 65-62 with just under 12 minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs held on for a few more minutes, but nine straight SU points vaulted the hosts into the lead. Boeheim started the streak with a three-pointer that rattled around before eventually settling into the net, then added another off a Dolezal steal and assist. Joe Girard III, who had missed his first 11 shots of the game, connected on a three from just left of center for a 75-73 Syracuse lead.
Bryant jumped back in front, though, and held an 80-77 lead on a pair of foul shots coming out of the under-four media timeout. Griffin made one free throw, then threw down the business end of an alley-oop on a beautiful pass from Girard to tie the game at 80.
Two foul shots put the Bulldogs back in front, but Girard rattled home a deep three for an 83-82 Orange edge with just over two minutes to go. Neither team scored until Dolezaj made both ends of a bonus opportunity at the foul line with 22 seconds left, stretching the SU lead to three.
The visitors got a mid-range jumper, cutting the gap to a single point with 12 seconds to play. Guerrier was fouled on the inbounds pass with 11.1 seconds on the clock, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Dolezaj snared the board and was fouled with 10.4 seconds left.
Dolezaj missed his first shot from the line and Bryant secured the ball. The Bulldogs came up and got an open three from the left corner that skipped off the rim with four seconds left and went long. Bryant got one more shot, but a mid-range jumper from the right baseline also caromed off, giving Syracuse the win.
Buddy Boeheim led all scorers with 21 points for the Orange, connecting on four threes. Marek Dolezaj had a strong all-around game, finishing with 20 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and five steals. Alan Griffin and Quincy Guerrier each had a double-double. Griffin hit four first-half threes en route to 17 points and 12 boards while Guerrier scored a dozen of his 15 points in the second half and snagged an equal number of boards.
Chris Childs paced Bryant with 18 points, knocking down all five threes he attempted in the opening half. Michael Green III and Syracuse native Charles Pride each added 15 points while Peter Kiss chipped in with 12 and Hall Elisias 11 points to go with a team-high eight rebounds before fouling out.
SU will host Niagara on Thursday. That game will be the opener for the Purple Eagles, who had their original opener against Gannon canceled. Niagara returns four of their five top scorers from last season’s 12-20 squad.
The Syracuse-Niagara contest will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern and will be televised by regional sports networks.