Syracuse lost a defensive battle on Saturday evening and were eliminated from the 2021 NCAA Tournament by Houston, 62-46.
Here are the key takeaways:
Houston’s defense was too much for the Orange
Houston’s DeJon Jarreau chased Buddy Boeheim all night, and his physical brand of defense proved to be effective, as Boeheim finished 3-13 from the floor and 1-9 from downtown for 12 points. Syracuse struggled to find other ways to score, after relying so heavily on Boeheim’s hot shooting (27.5 ppg) in the first two games of the NCAA Tournament.
“I knew it was going to be a battle,” Boeheim said. “I had some looks I have to make and I put that on myself. It’s a great defensive team and we had looks we didn’t capitalize on.”
Boeheim wasn’t the only one to struggle. Quincy Guerrier finished with 8 points on 3-9 shooting from the field while Joe Girard III had 12 points, but shot 4 of 10.
The Orange struggled to gain any type of offensive flow as Quentin Grimes and Jarreau locked down the perimeter. Syracuse shot a combined 28.0 percent from the field and 21.7 percent from downtown.
Houston also finished with 8 steals and outrebounded the Orange by 9.
Bench players have developed well for Syracuse
Syracuse quickly dug itself in a 12-point deficit, as Cougars raced out to a 17-5 lead. But Jesse Edwards and Kadary Richmond were key reasons why the Orange was able to rally to tie the game at 20 with 4:56 left.
Syracuse was -16 on the floor in the first half without Edwards, and +4 with him on the floor. He finished with six points and five rebounds, helping the Orange close the rebounding margin.
Edwards sat shortly after, and Houston immediately took advantage, going on a 10-0 run to close the half.
As for Richmond, he sparked the run by driving and finding Guerrier for a slam, and later made a jumper. Richmond finished with five points.
SU’s third bench player, Robert Braswell, went scoreless on 0-3 shooting, but also emerged as a key piece of Syracuse’s rotation in the postseason, averaging 9.2 ppg in SU’s previous four games.
“I told the players if you look at the season, we should have lost to Bryant and Buffalo,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “For the players to get where they are and overcome it. I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team. Period.”
Postseason roster moves loom
Jim Boeheim previewed what’s likely to come in the next few weeks as the offseason begins. The NCAA voted to eliminate its one-year redshirt rule following a transfer, and at the same time, the ACC eliminated its intraconference transfer rule.
“There are going to be a lot of transfers this offseason, and we aren’t immune to it,” he said. “Players are going to leave and do what makes them happy. We’re going to lose some players and that’s the reality.”
Among transfer candidates include Woody Newton, who started the season in the rotation, but lost his reserve role to Braswell as conference play started. He appeared in only five games in 2021, and with incoming five-star Benny Williams set to arrive in the fall, minutes at wing may be hard to find.
Speaking of wings, could Alan Griffin transfer? Griffin started the season as one of SU’s top scorers, but disappeared during championship season, and finished with only 2 points in 16 minutes against Houston. Still, Griffin just arrived to Syracuse after transferring from Illinois.
Seldom used centers John Bol Ajak and Frank Anselem struggled to crack the rotation, and would be logical choices to leave, as well.
Other offseason roster moves could include Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj, who have each played four seasons at Syracuse, but are eligible for a fifth season because of the extra year granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19.
There is also some pro buzz around Boeheim, whose torrid streak to finish the year caught the eyes of some NBA scouts. But Boeheim put any possible rumors to rest following the loss.
“I’ll be back,” Boeheim said. “I have a lot of work to do.”