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Against No. 6 Villanova, Buddy Boeheim struggled shooting, going 3-of-15 from the field. Cole Swider couldn’t connect on his 3-point attempts, and even Jesse Edwards’ 10-point performance was uncharacteristic since he finished 1-of-6 from the field but entered the game shooting at a much higher clip among the nation’s best 2-point scorers.
Syracuse lost in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, but it wasn’t Buddy, Swider, Edwards or even Joe Girard III’s 3-of-5 outing from beyond the arc that kept the game close until halfway through the second half. It wasn’t the four of them who helped SU to a five-point first half lead and a game with 15 lead changes and eight ties against the No. 6 team in the nation.
It was Jimmy Boeheim, the Cornell transfer, who posted the second-best performance of his short-lived Syracuse career: 21 points on 10-of-19 from the field. The outing was five points shy of his 26-point game against Indiana last Tuesday, though three of those points came in the second overtime period.
Jimmy came to Syracuse’s rescue every time it needed a clutch bucket. Jimmy — not Syracuse star and his younger brother, Buddy — kept the game tight. It was Jimmy who had space to drive and capitalized on interior space while Villanova’s defenders locked up Buddy and Swider from deep.
“If they don’t come off our shooters, he’s a really good driver, and most teams come off a little bit, but they didn’t,” head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game.
Boeheim was blunt after the game, explaining that “we’re not there” when discussing the gap between SU and higher caliber teams like Villanova. Syracuse wasn’t — and isn’t — good enough to compete with a top-six team in the nation, Boeheim said. But in the loss, his eldest son, Jimmy, emerged as an interior scoring threat to finish and keep the Orange (5-4, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) in the game. Despite a 67-53 loss to the No. 6 Wildcats (7-2, 0-0 Big East), Jimmy proved that Syracuse’s offense has the potential to become more multidimensional by driving inside through him and Edwards.
“Just having the mentality of knowing that I’m going to come off makes it a lot easier on my end,” Jimmy said after SU’s 14-point loss. “I just be really aggressive and try to score, so just knowing that and getting the ball in good spots.”
For the second game in a row, Buddy was locked down and left with limited space to drive, or shoot. Villanova gave him very few easy shots, Boeheim said after the game, and when the Wildcats did, he simply couldn’t convert. But the attention given to SU’s shooters meant more space for Jimmy to work inside the paint.
The Cornell graduate transfer knocked down a 3-pointer in transition over his defender early in the game, moments after Villanova missed a 3 of its own. Then, the forward got to work inside.
He started by driving in the right lane to finish a layup, but Jimmy simply couldn’t get the ball to fall as it bounced around the rim and then out. He tried a jumper that didn’t fall either, but then when his floater in the paint gave SU an 18-16 lead, he began to heat up.
Jimmy backed his defender into the left block and used a smooth post move to convert a hook-shot a few possessions later. It became clear that Syracuse wanted to favor him in one-on-one isolation circumstances, and he proved that when he swished a fadeaway to stretch SU’s lead to four points with four minutes left in the first half. He capped off an 11-point first half by laying in the final bucket of the half, giving SU a 3-point halftime lead.
“Jimmy’s made a huge impact,” Boeheim said.
Immediately to open the second half, Jimmy left off where he started by driving into the paint, spinning around and hooking in a smooth shot from the post. He continued to drive on both sides of the court, flashing his ability to finish with his use of both hands.
He pulled up in the middle of the paint to tie the game at 43, and then knocked down a layup from the left lane moments later.
Jimmy’s final points of the game came with six minutes remaining in the game, when he carried the ball up the floor and elected to drive. He got to his spot in the post, spun and swished a bucket from the left side. He made it a four-point game with plenty of time left for SU.
But Jimmy’s points turned into two of Syracuse’s final four points. When he stopped scoring, so did the Orange, which was indicative of the night SU had. He eventually stopped connecting down the stretch, and Syracuse conceded a 12-2 run and lost by double-digits.
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