Chukwu key in ACC tourney win over Pitt

Chukwu key in ACC tourney win over Pitt

Without top scorer Tyus Battle, the Orange claimed a victory over Pitt by 14.
Published: March 14, 2019

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a tale of two halves in the Spectrum Center on Wednesday, as Syracuse gained control in the latter to take down Pittsburgh 73-59.

While the final score may look like a comfortable one for the Orange, it certainly wasn’t in the first half. It was the Jared Wilson-Frame show early on. The senior guard for Pittsburgh had six three-pointers in the first half, including four in a row to start the game.

“Frame has always hurt us,” said Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, “And he certainly did tonight, as well.”

Wilson-Frame’s six threes accounted for a 50 percent share of Pittsburgh’s 36 points in the first half.

At 14-19 on the year, the Panther season is likely over. For Wilson-Frame it meant a great deal to produce a quality performance.

“I just tried to leave it all out there on the floor for my guys, everybody on the team,” said the senior. “I love this group.”

While Wilson-Frame had a stellar first half and led the Panthers to a 36-30 lead at the break, the Orange turned the tides quickly. The stories of the second half were Buddy Boeheim and Paschal Chukwu.

Pittsburgh had found some success against the 2-3 zone in the first half. Getting the ball to the middle, creating space, and kicking for a three-pointer or finishing near the rim.

Chukwu stopped that trend in its tracks after the halftime break. After recording just one block in the first half, he sent five shots away in the second period.

“Well, Paschal is a key for us, no question,” said Jim Boeheim.

Chukwu’s presence in the middle of the zone had a ripple effect on the rest of the court. As the Panthers became increasingly wary of throwing the ball inside, the Orange were able to extend the zone a bit more. Pushing Pittsburgh further away from the three-point arc, the Panthers couldn’t shoot the ball with the same efficiency that they did in the first half.

Wilson-Frame went 2-7 from three-point land in the second half. The Panthers made four three-pointers the entire second half.

Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel acknowledged how important the size of Syracuse was down the stretch.

“This is the third time we’ve played them, and they’ve been bigger than us every time, so it’s bothered us every time, especially at the basket,” said Capel.

After just five points in the first half, Buddy Boeheim put together a run in the second half, one that included two of his five threes in the game.

His father Jim likes what he sees.

“He really turned the game in the second half when he hit those two right off there. He’s becoming better. He’s moving the ball, passing the ball better. You know, he’s getting better all the time.”

An improving Buddy Boeheim could prove crucial for the Orange as they look toward an incredibly talented Duke team on Thursday night, especially considering that Jim Boeheim said in the post-game press conference that Tyus Battle is realistically 2-3 days away from being healthy. While speculation will continue to swirl around Battle’s health, another solid performance from Buddy would be massive against the Blue Devils.

Buddy Boeheim added another element to the Syracuse offense today, one desperately needed in the absence of Battle. Not only did the freshman space the floor, but he got to the basket too. After not getting to the line in the first half, he shot seven free throws in the second half.

To put things in perspective, Buddy played six minutes in Syracuse’s first meeting with Duke in Durham. He had three points and a rebound. You may be saying, this Syracuse team doesn’t need to be different than the one that took down Duke in overtime.

I think it does need to be different, and it is. Every team has improved drastically throughout the season. Especially a team like Duke, which is loaded with NBA talent and an all-time great at the helm.

While the Orange may not be loaded with NBA talent, they’ve improved just as the Blue Devils have. That improved group showed poise and promise tonight, without arguably their best player. If those characteristics, along with Boeheim at the helm, aren’t a recipe for a tournament run, I’m not sure what is.

The Orange will face the Blue Devils at 9 p.m. Thursday.

Avatar for Jack Schlafly

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.