In a game that most assuredly would have been a “Cardiac Cuse” event had there been anyone in the stands, Syracuse managed to defeat Buffalo 107-96 in an eerily quiet overtime performance on Saturday night.
Here are our key takeaways from an unlikely nail-biter:
The Swiss Cheese Defense
The lack of cohesion in the zone defense continues to be an enormous liability. With Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard at the top of the zone, Buffalo took advantage—shooting 9-22 from downtown compared to Syracuse’s 3-19 (more on that below)—and were able to create open shots wherever they liked in the first half, shooting 6 of 14.
The Bulls were particularly effective in the corners, with Marek Dolezaj and Quincy Guerrier constantly shifting, and they were out of position to stop the corners and cover the paint effectively.
“It’s not just one guy on our defense,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It’s everybody.”
Kadary Richmond and his 6-foot-9 wingspan at the top of the zone is an improvement when he’s in, and he finished with three blocks to go with eight rebounds and a steal. But the lackluster performance in SU’s trademark defense is concerning because they’ve given up 75 or more points in three of seven games so far.
What happened to the 3?
Alan Griffin, Girard and Boeheim, were 0-3, 1-6, and 0-5 respectively on 3-point shooting against Buffalo.
Guerrier was SU’s top shooter, hitting 2 of 5, but SU shot a combined 3-19 for the night. Perhaps it’s too obvious a statement, but Syracuse’s shooters have to score.
“We’re not making enough 3s” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the game, in the understatement of the evening.
His son, Buddy, has been particularly cold since returning from the COVID-19 contact tracing protocol, which cost him games against Rutgers and Niagara, and two weeks of practice. In the two games prior to his absence, he was shooting a healthy 7 for 19. In the two games since his return? 0-8.
Girard has been wildly inconsistent in his seven games, and is shooting just 31.6 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from downtown. He was a non-factor in 16 minutes, scoring just two points on 1-6 shooting.
And then there’s Griffin, who went scoreless against Northeastern but bounced back with a 24 point, 10 rebound performance against the Bulls. He’s SU’s leading scorer at 16.6 ppg, shooting 38.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Guerrier is the key to success for the Orange
Guerrier had another double-double Saturday night (his fourth of the season) with a career-high 27 points and his aggressively smart play nabbed him 11 rebounds.
Guerrier also shot 9-12 from the field, and hit two of the Orange’s three 3s. He’s shooting 43.8 percent from downtown this year up from 12.5 percent in his freshman year.
At this point, this kind of performance is a given. For the season is shooting 66.2 percent and averaging a team-best 18.0 points and 10.0 rebounds.
“Quincy’s been great all year,” Boeheim said.
Another understatement on a player who has been reliably fantastic in the early part of a season that has been anything but reliable.
With the Orange staring down a 16-point deficit with four minutes gone by in the second half, it was Guerrier’s 3-pointer from the right wing that sparked SU’s run. Guerrier scored six straight points for the Orange to help pull them to within 61-49 with 14:36 left.
It was more of the same in overtime, when Guerrier’s second 3-pointer, this time from the left wing, put the Orange up 96-90. Buffalo would get no closer than four points the rest of the way.
“You’re 16 down, I don’t think there was that much hope out there,” Boeheim said. “But these guys just kept playing, kept making plays…tremendous effort.”