Syracuse defeated Lafayette in its 2021-22 season opener at the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night. Here are the key takeaways from the game:
#1: Jimmy Boeheim has already made the adjustment
It had been over 600 days since Jimmy Boeheim last played in a college basketball game.
He wasn’t able to play as a senior at Cornell when the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season because of the COVID pandemic, meaning that the last time he played in an official game was March 7, 2020 (an 85-82 win over Princeton).
Jimmy didn’t show any rust, scoring the first 8 points for Syracuse. He finished with 18 points on 8-9 shooting, and added five rebounds in 25 minutes.
“I’m sure you could tell I was itching to get back out there,” Jimmy said. “I just tried to have fun out there.”
#2: Swider struggles early, finishes strong
It was a forgettable first half for Cole Swider in his Orange debut.
He showed some opening night jitters, shooting just 1-6 in the first half and 1-5 from downtown. But he turned it on in the second, shooting 5-8 from the field to finish with 14 points to go with a game-high 12 rebounds.
Four of those five makes were inside the arc, something of a rarity in Swider’s college career. In three years at Villanova, Swider only averaged around two shots a game in 2-point territory.
The 12 rebounds were also a positive sign for a player who never averaged more than 2.9 rebounds in any of his first three seasons.
“He is a good player,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Shooters do not make everything. He kept plugging away, and he got some post plays. Thats what you do when you are not making shots.”
#3: It was Girard’s night
Joe Girard III stepped up in the opener and was the offensive spark SU needed.
He finished 6-9 from the field and a perfect 5-5 from deep, for a game-high 20 points. He was the lead contributor in a torrid shooting night for the Orange, as the team finished a combined 13-26 from beyond the arc.
While Girard certainly impressed with his shooting, his court vision was even more noteworthy. He dished out seven assists and only turned the ball over once, and he added three rebounds and a steal.
“We have a lot of weapons and guys that can put the ball in the basket,” Girard said. “We also have experienced vets and we all know what it takes to win. We are all looking forward to the season and we know we can make a repeat run.”
#4: Ajak takes, and misses, a 3
With Syracuse leading by as many as 36 in the second half, Boeheim played all nine of his (healthy) scholarship players, with all getting over fifteen minutes except for John Bol Ajak.
Ajak ended up playing seven minutes, which may not seem like a lot, but it was a good run for Ajak, who played all of 51 minutes last year.
With Jesse Edwards in foul trouble all night, Ajak and Frank Anselem (17) saw extended minutes.
Ajak had perhaps the most memorable play of the night.
With 1:20 to go in the first half, Ajak inexplicably launched a 3-pointer that fell well short of the rim, barely grazing the net. It drew laughs from the crowd and frustration from Boeheim.
“He can’t shoot so I don’t know why he was shooting that 3,” Boeheim said. “He hasn’t taken on in practice that I can remember.”
But Ajak atoned for his shot selection in the second half, drilling a 15-footer with 2:14 left to bring an audible roar from the crowd.
“He can make the short jump shot,” Boeheim said. “He’s a good passer, good ball movement guy. He can help us in certain situations.”