Syracuse’s 85-84 nail-biting win by the Orange led to a sigh of relief for what could have been an embarrassing start to this pandemic-stricken season. After Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim tested positive for COVID-19, the Orange had only one practice leading up to its game against Bryant.
In a year to remember, the Orange’s season opener taught us key things that might foreshadow how the rest of the season will go.
As expected, COVID-19 is going to mess some things up.
The Orange had to take two weeks off following a positive test from both Boeheim and an unnamed player. Syracuse was able to sneak past Bryant, but the time off showed.
Syracuse seemed fatigued and came out cold following the time off while Bryant started with momentum and solid shooting from deep. Bryant guard Chris Childs of Bryant started the game 4-4 from three and finished 5-9 as the Bulldogs stormed out to a 51-44 halftime lead.
At one point in the second half, Bryant held a 12-point lead before the Orange rallied behind 20 points from Marek Dolezaj and 23 from Buddy Boeheim.
“You know we should have never played this game,” Boeheim said. “It’s 100 percent my fault.”
Boeheim made a point to criticize current protocols once a player or coach tests positive for COVID-19. In the ACC, teams must take two weeks off following a positive test. Compare that to other teams like Gonzaga, who had positive tests but was allowed to play the following day.
“If you are playing anybody in our league,” Boeheim said, “if you are out fourteen days and cannot practice, you cannot play basketball.”
Joe Girard III struggled tremendously, but it can only get better from here
Sophomore guard Joe Girard III had perhaps his worst collegiate game, finishing with 6 points on 2-14 shooting and 2-9 from beyond the arc. While he did hit a pair of key shots late in the second half, it was still an off night in what Boeheim called a “nightmare game.”
Despite the struggles, Boeheim stuck with Girard, playing him the entire second half. Eventually, Girard found the range, hitting a 3-pointer with 6:14 to go putting the Orange up 75-73. Girard came up big again with 2:16 left, hitting a shot from downtown to put the Orange back on top 83-82.
“I’ve never seen Joe play that badly,” Boeheim said. “We needed Joe to have a better game; that would have solved some problems.”
Girard logged 34 minutes despite freshman guard Kadary Richmond’s promising debut. Richmond played nine minutes in the opening half, and was 2-2 from the field for five points and tacked on three rebounds. But he quickly picked up three fouls and did not play in the second half.
Alan Griffin seems to be the perfect piece with Hughes’ departure
With Syracuse’s leading scorer from last season, Elijah Hughes, entering the NBA draft, the Orange were in need of another explosive scorer. Transfer guard Alan Griffin from Illinois seems like the perfect replacement so far.
Griffin has a smooth jump shot and was 3-9 from beyond the arc and finished with 14 points. Perhaps even more impressive was his ability to rebound, finishing with 12 boards.
Griffin’s performance Friday mirrored Hughes’ production from last year in his Orange debut, adding three assists and a block to his totals. He also showed his jaw-dropping athleticism, throwing down a one-handed tomahawk jam on an alley-oop from Girard with 3:27 left to tie the game at 80.
With Bourama Sidibe getting hurt early on, Griffin started at forward alongside Quincy Guerrier and played the entire second half. The two of them combined for 29 points and 24 rebounds and Syracuse won despite being a heavy betting favorite.