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After Bourama Sidibe set a third screen, trying to free Cole Swider for a shot while fading closer and closer to the left corner with each failed attempt, Sidibe realized that Georgia Tech had overplayed Swider and instead started to drive. It took two dribbles before one Yellow Jackets defender, forward Khalid Moore, jabbed his arm toward Sidibe to jar the ball loose. Then, it took one hop for Sidibe to travel from outside the restraining area to the right block, evading the recovering Georgia Tech defender off of Swider altogether.
And by the time he rose and converted the layup with 3:53 left in overtime, deadlocking the Orange and Georgia Tech at 68-68, Sidibe — playing with four fouls and Frank Anselem, the other option at center, sitting on the bench with five fouls and a Gatorade towel draped over his leg — had provided SU with the spark it needed in the opening minute of overtime. Head coach Jim Boeheim called it “the play of the game.” Buddy Boeheim said it was “big-time” and that it “was more than two points” because of the injection it provided.
“He was stuck. We were all stuck; we couldn’t do anything,” Boeheim said. “He just took it right to the basket. That was a huge play.”
Sidibe had scored one basket prior to that play in Syracuse’s 74-73 win over Georgia Tech on Monday, but he finished with three points, two rebounds and a pair of tips that led to offensive rebounds in overtime alone. It was an output that stabilized an SU center position already adapting because of Jesse Edwards’ season-ending injury, and mending even more on Monday because of the four points and nine fouls Anselem and Sidibe had combined for in regulation. But Sidibe managed to play 4:53 after regulation without picking up his fifth foul, building off his performance against Boston College two days prior.
“Today at the end of the game, I was like, ‘If I’m going to foul, it has to be a hard foul,’” Sidibe said. “So I just got to make sure I’m in the right defensive place, if I’m in the right spot … Joe (Girard III) and Buddy and Cole (Swider), they were talking to me like, ‘You just got to go down and play defense,’ so I did that.”
Sidibe fell to the ground after converting the layup and Moore’s elbow appeared to connect with his face. Anselem stood on the sidelines with both hands raised, pleading for a call. A review at the video replay monitor followed, but play continued without a foul.
Forty seconds after that sequence, Sidibe glanced toward the backboard as Swider’s jumper from the elbow bounced off the rim. Sidibe wiggled between a pair of Georgia Tech defenders and snagged the ball before swinging it back toward the basket — drawing a foul in the process while narrowly missing an and-one. He missed the first attempt from the charity stripe before making the second to give SU its first lead of overtime.
But Sidibe’s ability to provide the SU offense a boost when needed directly correlated with his ability to avoid picking up that fifth foul. It’d been an area of weakness even before knee injuries derailed his past season and a half, but in the time since his return, the trend has returned. He picked up his fourth foul and checked out for Anselem on Monday with nine minutes left, making contact with Rodney Howard after a scrum for an offensive rebound.
The problem, though, was that Anselem already had four fouls, too. He’d picked his up at the 9:31 mark of the second half, prompting Boeheim to send Sidibe back to the scorer’s table. Anselem helped pace the Orange in rebounds again with 10, continuing to flash the potential he first showcased by grabbing 15 against Virginia Tech on Feb. 12. But he picked up his fifth foul with 1:13 left in regulation.
“I think Frank had a tough night, and Bourama stepped up and really helped us out,” Swider said. “(Sidibe’s) fighting, man. He’s hurting out there, and you can tell he’s not healthy, but he’s working really hard and he’s doing the most that he can for us.”
Syracuse went small after Anselem’s fifth foul, so Sidibe didn’t check back in until the start of overtime. By that point, the foul-to-point ratio for the pair had swelled to 9:2, a sign of defensive positioning lapses paired with a lack of opportunities at the offensive end. But then Sidibe sent the ball off the backboard and through the basket for his layup. He followed with the free throw, while securing an air-balled shot on defense.
And in the final minutes, with the Orange’s offense needing to find ways to avoid empty possessions, Sidibe assisted with a tip to Jimmy Boeheim after a missed shot that led to an offensive rebound and an open 3-point attempt for Buddy — one that ultimately missed — near the corner.
“He kept a few possessions alive for us like that, just keeping the ball alive,” Jimmy said postgame. “… I turned and we got Buddy a great look, the look we want. We’ll take that every time, but he missed. It happens.”
With 1:08 left in overtime, moments before that offensive board, Sidibe followed another Buddy miss and tried to corral the ball amid three Georgia Tech players. The ball escaped all four pairs of hands, though, and bounced on the ground. Sidibe dove for possession, climbing over a Yellow Jacket player sprawled on the ground, and managed to secure enough of the possession to force a jump-ball call. The Orange, at that point, led 74-73, but that tie-up gave them another chance to potentially extend that lead even more.
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