Regardless of what you may have heard, the sky is not falling.
True, after adding to Saturday’s 66-60 loss to the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium to Wednesday’s stunner against Boston College, the Syracuse Orange have dropped two straight. True, the Orange have struggled to get buckets of late, even in their victories. True, Syracuse has only one home game left in the regular season.
Regardless of what you may have heard, this loss to Duke doesn’t herald the demise of the 2013-14 Syracuse basketball season. It’s one loss. It was a game that Syracuse could have won, despite shooting under 39% from the field. It’s a loss that everyone on the Orange bench can learn from, even Jim Boeheim.
A Tale of Two Games
The first meeting between Syracuse and Duke earlier this month was an instant classic. It wasn’t the fact that it was a high-scoring, up and down affair. It wasn’t the fact that Rasheed Sulaimon forced overtime with a late three. It was the fact that both teams played at pretty much the highest level possible for college basketball for the full 45 minutes.
The same could not be said for Saturday’s game. This was a grind it out slug fest that most would think would be more to Syracuse’s liking. After shooting the lights out in the Dome, both the Orange and the Blue Devils were much more tepid from the field, particularly Syracuse. They shot 57% on February first, but only 38.7% on Saturday.
The most likely culprit is poor three-point shooting. Syracuse was only 2-9 from deep in Cameron, both by former Dookie Michael Gbinije. True the Orange only made two threes in their win earlier this month, but the difference was that then they only attempted four. In most other games, against most other opponents, Syracuse can get way with 2-9 from deep. Against a team like Duke, though, that can score with relative ease, the Orange need to make the absolute best out of every possession. And, against a team like Duke who can’t guard the interior (even when Marshal Plumlee plays a season high 19 minutes) every three taken is a missed chance for a layup. The Orange did a great job of attacking the paint in the first game, right from the start. In this one, it seemed like they had forgotten what worked for them up in Syracuse and started launching early. In a game decided by a few buckets, those chances were gold.
When looking for answers as to why the Orange are struggling to score, it’s easy to point to the big three of Ennis, Fair and Grant. They’re the ones who get the most attention and appear the most on SportsCenter.
It’s easy to forget that Trevor Cooney is Syracuse’s second leading scorer. He might be the most incognito second leading scorer in America. It’s also easy to overlook that, in Syracuse’s last four games, Cooney is just 9-31 (29%) from the field. He’s only 6-23 (26%) from deep during that stretch. This is a guy what was shooting 50% from three earlier this year. Despite his recent struggles, Cooney is still shooting 41% from deep. What’s even more impressive is the fact that he’s shooting 43% from the field overall even though 71% of his attempts are threes. Basically, it boils down to this; Trevor Cooney gets buckets from deep and, lately, he hasn’t been doing that.
Now, it’s not as if Trevor hasn’t been doing other things. He ended Duke’s first possession on Saturday with a steal. He’s still working hard off the ball. He’s struggled to score lately largely because opponents have had a man glued to him at all times, not looking to help at all. When a guy drops nine threes on somebody, he’s bound to draw attention. And, really, the attention Cooney draws is the lion’s share of his contribution to most games. It occupies a defender at all times. He allows his interior oriented teammates to play basically four-on-four, with more space to operate inside.
All that being said, he’s still the team’s second leading scorer and they need him to do just that; score. He only had field goal attempts against Duke. That’s just not enough. And, of course, he needs to make more of what he takes. Staying hot from three would be great, but Trevor needs to put up points any way he can. He’s got the skill to be more than just a jump shooter. He needs to utilize that. He needs to be a dual threat. That will no only get him more buckets, but open up the threes he’s so good at hitting.
The story of the game, of course, was the controversial charge called on C.J. Fair with 10.4 seconds left in the game. The Orange were down two and Fair made a difficult layup on a baseline drive. Duke’s Rodney Hood moved to take a charge and the referees gave it to him.
I’m not going to argue whether or not it was a good call. It was one of those that was crystal clear, depending on which side you were rooting for. But I would like to reiterate what Jay Bilas said during the broadcast; that play essentially ended the game for Syracuse.
To say that Jim Boeheim went berzerk after the call was made is a bit of an understatement. I’ve seen my fair share of Boeheim reactions (and over reactions) over the few hundred Syracuse games I’ve watched in my lifetime. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him go off the way he did on Saturday night. I agree with what Bilas said in that the two techs were absolutely warranted. You can tell the ref that his call his bullshit a couple of times. You can get away with that. But you can’t chase him halfway across the court and berate him. Boeheim deserved to get tossed from that game and, ironically, perhaps become to Duke what Big John Thomson is to Syracuse.
It’s also fairly plain that Bilas’ other point is true was well. That reaction sealed Syracuse’s fate. Even though Duke was in the foul bonus, no free throws are awarded for a player control foul. The Blue Devils would have taken the ball out under their own basket, giving Syracuse a chance to press, give a foul and extend the game being down only two. Instead, Quinn Cook made three out of four technical free throws and despite Duke’s best attempts to hand the game to the Orange anyway (missing free throws and fouling Tyler Ennis on a late three-point attempt), the Blue Devils came away with a six point win.
Now, if course, that one play didn’t lose the game for Syracuse. While the Orange are still rock solid on defense, their lack of scoring punch is starting to catch up with them. There’s work to be done if they’re to make good on their potential as a Final Four contender. At the same time, though, let’s not make as if Syracuse is doomed. Late season dips are not uncommon for the Orange. Yet Boeheim always finds a way to right the ship and have his team playing well when they most need to.
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Chris Daughtrey is the creator and author of Bleeding Orange. He is a contributor at Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician and at Atlantic Coast Confidential. You can connect with him on Twitter @OrangeBlood 44 or search #OrangeBlood.