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With Syracuse down 22 in the first half, the Orange desperately needed to find some offense. As Jimmy Boeheim dribbled toward the paint, he ran into two defenders and was stranded. Jimmy lifted the ball over his head and searched for a pass while Benny Williams made a baseline cut to the basket.
Jimmy quickly threw Benny a pass, and the freshman leapt in the air past Mark Williams to finish with an up and under layup for his first points in three games.
“I had a shoot around today and (graduate assistant Demetris Nichols) just pretty much was preaching to me I have nothing to lose (and) everything to gain,” Benny said. “So I just went out and played my hardest.”
Benny set career-highs in points (14), minutes (30) and rebounds (six) in Syracuse’s (15-14, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) blowout 97-72 loss against No. 7 Duke (25-4, 15-3 ACC). Benny, though, wasn’t the only player to play significant minutes off the bench. Bourama Sidibe played 26 minutes, which was more than double the minutes starting center Frank Anselem played. John Bol Ajak also came off the bench, playing a career-high 13 minutes as starters Anselem, Jimmy and Cole Swider struggled.
“(Jimmy and Swider) just didn’t play well. They didn’t get anything accomplished. They’re offensive players; that’s why they’re playing,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Maybe Duke’s too good defensively for them. They score against everybody else, but they do struggle against Duke.”
Out of Anselem, Swider and Jimmy, only Swider scored as the trio combined for two points, three rebounds, three assists and six fouls. All three played fewer minutes than Benny and Sidibe, with Anselem playing the same amount as Ajak. Jimmy scored 27 points against Notre Dame on Wednesday but was held without a point against Duke.
Usually, Symir Torrence is one of the first players off the bench, but he was injured and subsequently out for the rest of the game after suffering a head injury early in the first half. But even without the reserve guard, the trio of Benny, Sidibe and Ajak scored 27 points, gathered 12 rebounds and dished out four assists.
“They were really good. I thought they gave us a spark and energy,” Buddy Boeheim said.
After the win over Georgia Tech on Monday, Boeheim said he would be happy to get 15 minutes out of Sidibe, but on Saturday, the center ended up playing 26 against two likely NBA draft picks in Paolo Banchero and Mark.
Sidibe entered just four minutes into the contest as Banchero and Mark combined to score 11 points in a row against Anselem at center. Boeheim said Anselem was meant to stay back on Mark to prevent him from getting easy dunks and alley-oops from the dunker spot but was unable to do so.
After entering, Sidibe quickly grabbed a rebound by outmuscling Mark after Buddy missed a jumper and threw it back out to Buddy for an open 3 at the top of the arc. Later, Sidibe received a pass down low and rose for a hook shot and made it through contact from Mark to draw the and-one.
“I know I’m not where I’m supposed to be right now,” Sidibe said. “But every day when I go out I just play hard and try to give my best to the team.”
Sidibe would eventually rack up a season-high 26 minutes despite not being back to full health following his return from an injury suffered at the start of last season. Sidibe, alongside Benny, played more than half the game in one of Syracuse’s biggest games of the season. For most of the season, Boeheim has said Benny was not ready, but postgame he said Benny has “started to turn a corner a little bit.”
“It’s just one step to try to keep getting better,” Benny said. “So this is definitely a testament to the work that I’ve been putting in behind the scenes.”
But the bench couldn’t provide enough of a spark, with the Orange eventually falling by 25. By the end of the game, Boeheim checked in the final players on his bench, bringing the total number of players to appear in a game to 14, the second-most all season, but notably the most in a loss. Ultimately, Boeheim benched three of the starters, but the replacements, while showing individuals signs of improvement, couldn’t do much to change the outcome in the face of one of the best teams in the nation.
“We tried to get those guys in there, but the game stayed the same,” Boeheim said. “Stayed between 17 and 22 or 24 with Bol and Benny; (it) didn’t really change the game.”
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