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It was the same play that Syracuse had run three possessions earlier, the one tailored to get its top scorer, Buddy Boeheim, open with space behind the 3-point arc. But this time, Buddy turned left after he curled around Jesse Edwards’ screen. He didn’t dribble once like the last time — when he rose from the right wing and connected on a deep shot 10 seconds into the second half — but instead pulled his hands toward his chest and elevated into his shooting motion right away.
Buddy knew he was going to have room to work with because Brown hadn’t pressed him much when the Orange ran that play, he said postgame. If the shot wasn’t there, he would’ve had another screen to maneuver around, or he could have made a play in the post. The first sequence, Syracuse created the play off another set that hid Buddy’s movement, Joe Girard III said, but the second time, it was “probably a little mishap” by Brown that created the open look. By the time Buddy sank both shots, the second coming with 18:10 left in the second frame and prompting Girard to lift three fingers in the air and Buddy to slap both hands together, the Orange’s lead, once as slim as six, had been extended to 48-36.
“To see that one go down at the start of the half was great,” Buddy said.
Buddy’s pair of 3-pointers were part of a 13-2 run that kept growing and growing until it settled at 23-6. His season-high 28 points were boosted by four 3s — the first time this season he’s hit more than three in a game — and served as a foundation for the Orange’s offense as they cruised past Brown 93-62 on Monday to snap a two-game losing streak after a 16-day pause between games. Unlike past games this season, Syracuse found a way to make a halftime lead last and even increase it along the way, connecting on 57.4% of its shots from the field and converting 61.9% of its 3-point chances.
“We got good shots, and we made them,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Some of the games that we didn’t shoot well, the defenses were really, really good against us. We just didn’t make shots against them. … We got some really good looks to start the second half, and we made them.”
The game didn’t hint at a blowout like that for the entire 40 minutes, though, especially after an early SU scoring burst cooled and Brown started to chip away at an early 14-point deficit. The Orange scored 16 points in the opening five minutes after Jimmy Boeheim started that run by finding an open shooting lane on the right wing and connecting on a 3. Four possessions later, Girard resisted the urge to force a shot after Brown doubled him on the pick and roll, instead pulling back from his shot attempt and cycling the ball around the offense until it found Jimmy, this time perched on the opposite wing, for another deep shot.
It started a trajectory that threatened to end differently than Syracuse’s games that followed pauses last year, when it went 1-2 and needed a 20-point comeback against Notre Dame in the second half to claim that lone victory. Shooting numbers dipped — including Buddy’s — and an overall lack of fluidity stripped it of any offensive momentum.
But this year, after at least 14 players tested positive and the Orange’s program paused like dozens of others around the country, it was different. Buddy and Boeheim said it during radio segments last week, and Girard reiterated it again on Wednesday postgame. Players weren’t as sick, and Syracuse held more team practices during its stretch between games than it did last year. If anything, Girard added, they were in better shape than last year as they headed into what almost served as a “new season.”
At the center of that resurgence was Buddy. Defenses had adjusted their approach to guarding him throughout the season, taking away the open 3s and forcing him to create solely off the dribble. He managed just six points against both Florida State and Villanova, then bounced back with 17 against Georgetown but still never found a way to make more than three 3-pointers in a game.
After hitting his second 3-pointer following halftime, Buddy grabbed a defensive rebound and raced up in transition. He settled near Syracuse’s bench with Girard perched to his right, threatening to pull up for another shot, but this time, when a pair of Brown defenders closed on him, Buddy flipped the ball to Girard for a transition 3 that prompted the pair of SU guards to bump chests twice.
The second-half run helped put the Bears away, but back in the first half, Brown had pieced together a methodical comeback heading into the under-four timeout. The Bears connected on shots they missed earlier in the game and capitalized on Syracuse’s turnovers — like when Girard lost his handle near the top of the key or when he floated a pass that soared over a cutting Edwards. Then, after Jimmy missed a 3-pointer, Dan Friday grabbed a rebound and threaded a pass that hit Nana Owusu-Anane in stride for a dunk.
Brown started going inside-outside a lot, Buddy said, throwing it into the high-post and making the Orange once again adjust their zone defense to plug that opening. Tamenang Choh stationed himself in that spot and served as the mediator for rotations that cycled from wing to wing and corner to corner — catching and releasing with a quick wrist-flick and pace that Syracuse, at times, struggled to match.
To end the half, though, Girard picked off a pass and cycled the ball to Jimmy. He hit Edwards near the basket, who this time finished his shot at the basket, dunking the ball through the net. Free throws from Jimmy and Edwards after Brown surpassed the foul limit helped create a six-point lead again.
And that’s when Buddy took over, just like he did last year and just like Syracuse will need him to do again in conference play this year if the Orange are to resurrect a resume with five nonconference losses and turn it into a postseason berth. He scored six consecutive points after Brown’s first timeout but also opened up scoring lanes for other SU players, too.
With 13:40 left, Jimmy took a pass from Girard and backed his defender toward the basket. A Brown defender on the opposite wing couldn’t slide and help because that would’ve left Buddy open for a potential kick-out and 3-pointer. Instead, Jimmy faced a one-on-one matchup, and he converted. He sprinted back up the court but paused when Brown head coach Mike Martin tapped his hands together for another timeout.
“When I’m scoring, making plays, just moving without the ball, I’m a threat,” Buddy said. “I can get other guys open, setting screens, whatever it may be.”
The nonconference tuneup game, one of two final ones before the heart of conference play kicks in, ended just like it was supposed to with walk-ons checking in. But the flashes from Buddy, the reminders of the player he morphed into last year, made it even more promising for the Orange.
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