Orange drop must-win to Florida State

Orange drop must-win to Florida State

Even with Elijah Hughes back, Syracuse -- like every visiting team before them -- couldn’t topple the ‘Noles in Tallahassee. 
Published: February 15, 2020
COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 15 Syracuse at Florida State
Syracuse guard Joe Girard III looks to pass the ball during Saturday's game vs. Florida State in Tallahassee.

After a week of speculation about whether Elijah Hughes would return to the court following a groin injury, the star junior found himself at the center of the Donald Tucker Center before a hostile, sold-out crowd with a less than a second to score three points and tie the game at 80. The shot went up, and with a stray bounce, the Orange lost 80-77 to the No. 8 Florida State Seminoles.

Florida State firing

Syracuse stumbled to start the game. Despite an early 4-0 lead from back to back jumpers by Joe Girard III and Elijah Hughes, the zone defense quickly gave way to a 10-0 run by the Seminoles. The points came from MJ Walker, Trent Forrest, and Malik Osborne. Group contribution was a theme for Florida State, but not for the Orange.

Joe Girard III led the team with 14 points in the first half with minimal support from Hughes who scored 7. In yet another game, the forwards continued to have trouble with fouls. Marek Dolezaj recorded two fouls in the first two minutes of the game, which required Quincy Guerrier to join the action a little earlier than usual. With trouble under the basket, the shooters started to have some trouble as well.

Buddy Boeheim failed to score a single point. In 33 minutes of play, he unsuccessfully pulled up from three five times and didn’t make a single of his seven attempts from the field. Boeheim wasn’t alone in his shooting trouble. The team collectively shot only 21.4% from three and 37.5% from the field in the first half. Conversely, FSU landed 50% of their threes and 40.5% of their field goals in the half.

Florida State’s shooting dominated in the first half and as a result, Florida State held its lead until there were seven minutes left in the half. Hughes and Girard III led a slow comeback before the latter finally sank a three to push the score to 26-25. Things went back and forth for a few minutes, but Florida State’s shooting proved to be too much.

The Seminoles’ Patrick Williams led the way with nine points and closed the half with a long three to bring the score to 41-33.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 15 Syracuse at Florida State
Florida State forward Patrick Williams and Syracuse forward Elijah Hughes fight for position under the rim during Saturday's game.

Hughes is the last hope

In the second half, Syracuse mounted an early comeback that made the game close. Four minutes in, the Orange had reduced Florida State’s lead to 45-44 with a pair of threes by Hughes, and a layup with a couple of free throws by Bourama Sidibe.

Syracuse couldn’t quite pass them as Florida State continued to dominate. The most glaring issue was rebounding. By the end of the game, the ‘Noles pulled down 47 boards. The Orange had just 29. Florida State is the tallest team in the country, and Syracuse struggles with size. When the big men aren’t fouling out, they’re being dominated in the paint, and today’s performance was egregious.

Elijah Hughes willed the Orange back into the game in the second half. He scored 18 points. If the injury in the last game was any indication of what they Orange can (or more so cannot) do without Hughes, today showed what they can do with him. There was a scare early on, and he nearly returned to the locker room, but this game was competitive thanks to Hughes.

With six minutes left, Girard tied the game up. The ‘Cuse took a lead that they extended up to 65-61, and that was made possible by Florida State’s own mistakes. They missed shots in the second half and turned the ball over, but they quickly got things back under control.

The score bounced back and forth with the lead changing five times between 2:06 and the final minute. Syracuse was in a position to finish the game on top, and by all accounts, they should have. With 22 seconds left, FSU’s Patrick Williams made a jumper to take a 78-75 lead. However, Elijah Hughes made a shot of his own to close the margin to just one point.

Florida State got the ball back with 10 seconds left. Trent Forrest raced down the court and a pass was lobbed down the court to him. He caught the ball under the basket as Joe Girard was left to foul him. The Seminoles took a three-point lead. Elijah Hughes had one chance, and he took it. Like so many shots before it, the ball missed the net. Orange lose 80-77.

Moving forward

This game seemed like a must-win for Syracuse to make the NCAA Tournament. That may prove to be true after this loss. Regardless, the Orange take on the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals in Kentucky on Wednesday.

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