Adrian Autry nabs first win as SU men’s basketball head coach

Autry gets first head coaching win for SU men’s hoops

Despite some inconsistencies on the court, the Orange defeat New Hampshire in Monday’s season opener.

Head Coach Adrian Autry of the Syracuse Orange reacts during the second half against the New Hampshire Wildcats at JMA Wireless Dome on November 06, 2023 in Syracuse, New York.
New Syracuse head coach Adrian Autry reacts during the second half of Monday’s win over New Hampshire at JMA Wireless Dome.

Over 19,000 fans made the trip to the JMA Wireless Dome on Monday night to see two different Syracuse men’s basketball teams in head coach Adrian Autry’s first official game in charge.

There were bright spots and glimpses of Syracuse men’s basketball at its best alongside rough patches, mistakes and reminders of the last two seasons. Still, it added up to a win for the team and its coach.

The Orange started quickly — racing out to a 32-9 lead — then wobbled for a lengthy period before eventually making it to the finish line in an 83-72 win over the New Hampshire Wildcats.

It only took five minutes to see Autry’s vision personified. SU repeatedly pushed the tempo off misses and turnovers and had nine fastbreak points by the 16:40 mark of the first half. All five starters found themselves on the scoresheet by the first media timeout as the Orange raced to a 17-4 lead.

“I thought the first 12 or 13 minutes were really good,” Autry said. “Then we kind of wore down once we couldn’t score.”

Once it lost its big lead, Syracuse could only tread water as star sophomore guard Judah Mintz picked up his fourth foul early in the second half. Emboldened by a solid end to the first half, New Hampshire never got too far out of the picture, cutting the deficit to six at one point in the second half before the Orange were able to ensure a calmer end.

There were plenty of different sights compared to what Orange fans had grown accustomed to seeing over the last few years. SU came out almost exclusively in man-to-man defense, pushed the ball up the court in transition and utilized a nine-man rotation in the opener.

Most interestingly, Autry’s team closed the game in the 2-3 zone, which helped steady the ship after staying in man-to-man well into the second half.

After the game, the head coach said the move to zone was designed to get Mintz back onto the court with four fouls.

“Thank God for the 2-3 zone,” Autry said in the post-game presser. The newly minted head coach said the team began practicing the zone last week.

The sequence that best encapsulated Syracuse’s new style of play came after a possession of stifling man-to-man defense forced the Wildcats into a turnover. Sophomore guard Quadir Copeland came up with the steal and passed to Mintz, who offered return service for an easy dunk on the break that made it 21-6 seven minutes into the first half.

“We want to be a fun, fast-paced team,” Copeland said. “We got a lot of exciting players, a lot of entertaining players, so when we have those little moments and get the crowd going, it builds our energy.”

But then, the Syracuse of years past crept back into the picture. There were offensive sequences that ended with contested jump shots and defensive lapses that gifted the Wildcats wide-open shots.

SU’s biggest struggle was operating its half-court offense. There were plenty of transition points early on, but when New Hampshire cut down on turnovers and got back on defense, it was tough sledding for the Orange, who resorted to isolation ball at times.

“The ball started sticking a little bit,” said Autry. “We’d like to get a little more movement…We typically have four guys on the perimeter that dribble, pass, and shoot, so we’d like to create some driving lanes and get the defense running at us.”

Autry ran a starting lineup consisting of four sophomores—Judah Mintz and JJ Starling at the guard positions and Justin Taylor and Chris Bell at the forwards—and 7-foot-4 junior Naheem McLeod at center.

Junior forward Benny Williams, who was suspended ahead of the second exhibition game, remained out of the lineup on Monday. Autry offered no comment on Williams’ status going forward.

Mintz, who shackled with foul trouble, still managed a team-high 20 points that included a 9-of-11 effort from the foul line. He also added three steals and drew eight fouls.

Taylor, Starling and Copeland all added double-digit points as well.

The Orange will look to improve to 2-0 when they face Canisius on Wednesday night at the JMA Wireless Dome. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.