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From the high-post area, just beneath the left elbow where Prentiss Hubb lofted him the ball, Paul Atkinson Jr. grabbed the pass with both hands and turned toward the basket. It took one step for him to slide from the restraining area where Bourama Sidibe and Cole Swider both waited for the Notre Dame forward.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half, the Orange had done a better job containing Atkinson after he torched them with 14 points and 11 rebounds in the opening frame. They’d cut a once 12-point deficit to five at that point, too. When Atkinson rose for his layup, Sidibe timed his block attempt and deflected the shot attempt into the air, but Atkinson recovered to muscle the ball away from Sidibe and Swider. He kicked the ball out to Cormac Ryan at the top of the key, and he connected on the deep 3 to put the Fighting Irish back up eight.
Syracuse allowed Atkinson to finish with 20 points and 17 rebounds in its 79-69 loss on Wednesday. Notre Dame outrebounded the Orange 41-28, their worst rebounding margin since Dec. 7 against Villanova. And the Fighting Irish turned their 11 offensive rebounds into 22 second-chance points.
Head coach Jim Boeheim said that center Frank Anselem played “a little bit better” in the second half, and Sidibe has played at “half-speed” as he continues to recover from knee injuries. But as they have throughout the season, those rebounding issues returned and prevented SU from its first Quadrant 1 win of the season.
“He was there for every board,” Buddy Boeheim said. “He had a monster first half … and we got to be able to limit him from the start because we got some tough bigs we’re about to go against.”
Atkinson said that the Notre Dame coaches warned him that one of the weaknesses of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is its offensive rebounding. The Fighting Irish wanted to crash the boards to take good shots but then place extra emphasis on getting second-chance opportunities.
The Orange’s defenders couldn’t find Atkinson to box out like they could if they were in a man-defense, Atkinson said. It was a little easier for him to “wedge myself into position,” he said.
So that was where Atkinson thrived. He tipped in Notre Dame’s first points after centering himself between Jimmy Boeheim and Swider and added another offensive rebound one minute later to draw a foul and make a pair of free throws.
Other times, those extra possessions turned into opportunities for the other Fighting Irish players, too. With 11 minutes left in the opening frame, he kicked it out to Nate Laszewski for a 3. And by halftime, he had posted a double-double.
“You give (Atkinson) 14 points in the first half, it changes the direction of the game,” Boeheim said.
Wednesday marked the fourth consecutive game where Syracuse has been outrebounded or tied in rebounds after grabbing more boards than its opponents for nine of the previous 14. The stretch has been defined by the Orange’s adjustment without Jesse Edwards, and it’s led to Anselem and Sidibe playing extended minutes. “We’re trying to make the best of what they can do,” Boeheim said postgame.
Anselem said that Syracuse didn’t expect Atkinson to produce like he did, instead focusing more on the shooters, who they held to 11-of-33 from beyond the arc. Anselem admitted that he started slow defensively, and Boeheim said that, like the opening half of the Georgia Tech game, the center was “nonexistent.”
But Atkinson’s first-half output was enough to shape the trajectory of the game, especially with the second-chance points to give the Fighting Irish a four-point lead at half. He backed Jimmy down and finished the basket to make it 35-34. And when Notre Dame brought the ball up the court on its next possession, Atkinson settled into his spot on the left block, waiting for another opportunity to open.
Dane Goodwin received an entry pass in the high post and spun around for a jumper with 2:34 left, but it bounced long off the rim. As it careened to the left side, Atkinson slid over a step and reached up for the ball, trying to grab possession between the bodies of Buddy and Symir Torrence. He came down with the ball and dribbled once. Benny Williams flew through the air, trying to swat the easy dunk that Atkinson was preparing for.
But that one dribble gave him enough space to avoid Williams, and Atkinson slammed the ball down with one hand anyway before jogging back up the court.
The post Paul Atkinson Jr.’s 17 rebounds key ND’s rebounding, 2nd-chance points in SU loss appeared first on The Daily Orange.