New York State In-depth

Late game failures show Syracuse’s “Big Time Shotmakers” underutilized

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Syracuse almost made it. It almost made it, which would have been a big surprise.

In a game against Miami two weeks ago, it was a turnover from Judah Mintz that gave the Hurricanes a shot at a last-second win. In the final moments before North Carolina last week, it was a rebound and return from Pete Nance that the Orange couldn’t stop after a missed free throw. Then, on Monday night, it started allowing another offensive rebound.

Ben Vander Plas faked Jesse Edwards at the free throw line and made the center jump past him. Vander Plas then drove down the lane and went on and under Maliq Brown for the layup attempt.

He missed, catalyzed by too much power from Brown going up right on the edge. Justin Taylor swiped at the loose ball and missed, as did Joe Girard III. Vander Plas jumped back into position to regain the rebound and passed it to Armaan Franklin, pulling Mintz out of position and leaving Kihei Clark wide open at the top of the button. Had Vander Plas made the first layup, Virginia would have led 61-58. Had Syracuse corralled the defensive board, it would only have gone down by one. Instead, Clark emptied the wide-open 3-pointer to extend Virginia’s lead to four points.

“I think we struggled to win those tight games this year. It hurts,” said SU striker Chris Bell.

Head coach Jim Boeheim may poke fun at the question in post-game press conferences. Taylor can claim that “it’s just basketball,” but the fact remains that the Orange’s inability to finish games in the dying minutes has cost them multiple wins this season. Rather than Syracuse (13-10, 6-6 Atlantic Coast) battling for an NCAA tournament spot in February, it sits at the bottom of the conference.

Jacques Megnizin | theme editor

Taylor paused and looked up. Pittsburgh, Miami, North Carolina… He listed the close matches Syracuse almost won. Another was added to the list at home Monday night after a 67-62 loss to No. 6 Virginia. The loss to the Panthers was a blown 19-point lead. Against Miami and North Carolina, Mintz sometimes seemed a little overzealous and pushed the problem. Virginia combined all of the mishaps Orange had in previous losses and led to another frustrating loss that left players shaking their heads.

In their losses to the Cavaliers, Tar Heels, and Hurricanes, SU dropped just 10 points combined. Midgame runs of 12-0 and 12-2 against Virginia and UNC showed the Orange had a win within reach but slipped in the dying embers.

“I think coach (Boeheim) got it, Maliq (Brown) said it when we came into the dressing room: we have to hit our free throws,” said Symir Torrence.

Bell said Boeheim brought the orange into the late game — real-world situations where they’re behind by four points or less. While he didn’t reveal what Syracuse was trying to do differently – Torrence said overcoming mistakes late in the game isn’t even a matter of experience – Bell said the team still believes they are “big time shot makers.” “ have that can close a game.

However, SU’s last shot was a 3 from Mintz, and the 20% shooter from beyond the arc was choked. Girard, Syracuse’s top scorer, had the ball once but flicked it back to Mintz. Taylor was also open high up near the key.

In the final game against North Carolina, Mintz pulled a charge that was upgraded to a flagrant I foul. Boeheim said he was okay with how aggressive Mintz is, but Benny Williams was right next to Mintz. Mintz could have kept his head up, dropped the ball and unpacked in the event of a Williams miss.

The same happened against Miami. Mintz drove to the lane when three defenders rushed in on him to force the turnover. Edwards was right next to him and Taylor was once again wide open along the perimeter. But Edwards was bullied throughout the conference game and is now a suspension for fouling. Williams plays inconsistently — if at all — and Brown and Taylor are still adjusting to college basketball.

Jacques Megnizin | theme editor

The Orange have been a consistent free-throw team this season, adding fiery offensive cans to a lineup that shoots 47% from the arc. On Monday, it was open shots from the corner that gave Virginia the lead, then it was an 11-for-18 performance from the charity strip that played a big part in the final possession. “Shots just didn’t come,” Torrence said.

“Of course it’s super, super frustrating just because we shot the ball super well,” Taylor said.

But Torrence also said Syracuse needs to start doing the “little things.” Catching the rebound of a missed free throw, taking free throws of your own, or making an extra pass to make room is what the orange has to do.

A questionable offensive tackle on Edwards, his fifth of the night, closed the book on a Syracuse comeback. The Cavaliers doubled Edwards all night but SU had ample opportunities to take advantage of the pressure by swinging the ball to Taylor or Bell. If they really had those big-game shooters, the play calling didn’t signal that late in the game.

“We did everything we could to win this game, but it got away at the last second,” said Boeheim after the loss to North Carolina. Copy and paste that at least three more times this season.


Contact Anton: [email protected] | @anthonyalandt

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