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Syracuse watched a seven-point lead evaporate in the final minute as it caved against Miami’s press on Saturday. Three straight possessions resulted in turnovers, and the Hurricanes came back to win in the Carrier Dome.
It’s not the first time this year SU’s had this problem, either. It had 19 turnovers against Miami’s pressure and blew a 14-point halftime lead during the first matchup in January. It couldn’t inbound the ball against Wake Forest’s pressure to close out a win and eventually lost in overtime. It had trouble getting the ball up the floor when Joe Girard III had six turnovers against Pittsburgh on Jan. 25. And it couldn’t inbound once-more against UNC with a one-point lead and 15 seconds to go, losing in overtime as well.
“We lost the game because we couldn’t get the ball up the court,” head coach Jim Boeheim said after Saturday’s game. “That’s embarrassing. It shouldn’t happen, but we are not good against pressure, basically.”
The Miami loss was probably Syracuse’s worst game against the press, but it’s been a recurring issue — particularly at the end of games — for the Orange this season. Boeheim said Syracuse is “not good against full-court pressure.” It’s not something that many teams do, Boeheim said, but it’s repeatedly succeeded against SU.
“We’re slow, don’t handle it well,” Boeheim said Saturday. “They’re quicker.”
This year’s team has been criticized for being one of the least athletic during Boeheim’s 46-year tenure. That’s affected the defense, which ranks 215th in the country per KenPom, and its ability to play against the press, among other aspects.
Boeheim said SU needed to move the ball to whomever was open, away from double-teams, against Miami. “Somebody else has got to do it, bring it up,” he said. But SU didn’t have that reliable “somebody” on Saturday, or during numerous other key moments this season.
Frank Anselem had the ball taken out of his hands when it was inbounded to him. Cole Swider lost the ball after SU barely cleared the half-court line in time, and he watched Miami run it back for a layup. And moments before Swider’s play, Girard was dribbling against two defenders but lost his handle and accidentally kneed the ball out of bounds.
“It was hard … just getting the ball inbounds,” Jimmy Boeheim said postgame. “I think that was honestly the biggest issue there. They did a good job of just taking our ball-handlers away.”
At times this season, Boeheim has defended Girard’s play against the press. He said after the Louisville game on Feb. 5 that Girard handled pressure, and that the point guard is getting “way too much criticism.”
But Girard hasn’t consistently been able to bring the ball up the floor or handle opponents’ pressure. Girard was bothered by the full-court press against Cornell in December more than he should’ve been, Boeheim said. He averages 4.3 assists per game but also 2.8 turnovers, a ratio that’s 12th in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
At times Boeheim has turned to Symir Torrence, the backup. Boeheim said Torrence’s ball handling has helped the Orange penetrate an opposing defense and get the ball up the floor. The backup point guard would’ve been helpful for SU against Miami too, Boeheim said, but he missed the game with a concussion.
“We’ve had a problem dealing with pressure all year,” Swider said after the second Florida State game on Jan. 15. “Sy(mir) did a good job helping us just kind of break that press and get into our offense more smoothly.”
Boeheim has emphasized that Torrence, who missed the last two games of the season, doesn’t provide a lot more than ball-handling abilities for the Orange. He averages 2.4 assists and 2.2 points per game over 11.5 minutes and could return for the ACC Tournament.
Last season, SU knew how to operate against the press, for the most part. Boeheim called Marek Dolezaj the key to beating NC State’s pressure in February 2021. During the NCAA Tournament, Boeheim added that Dolezaj’s value wasn’t quantifiable on the stat sheet, partially because of how “he breaks the press for us.” Buddy Boeheim said that Kadary Richmond’s play against West Virginia, where the former point guard navigated the press and connected with Buddy was “the play of the game.” It helped SU advance to the Sweet 16.
“We’re good against pressure. That’s what we do,” Boeheim said on March 1, 2021, after SU beat UNC.
That isn’t the case anymore this year. Without Richmond and Dolezaj, among others, Syracuse hasn’t been as consistent against the press. Miami was just the latest example of Syracuse not knowing how to handle it.
“I don’t know what made it difficult, honestly,” Bourama Sidibe said after the Miami game. “We’ve seen that every year. We’ve seen everybody doing the same thing. It’s not only Miami; everybody(‘s) doing the same thing. We just got to be strong with the ball.”
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