Syracuse basketball showing signs of improvement ahead of rivalry game with Georgetown

Syracuse hoops showing signs of improvement ahead of Georgetown

The Orange have played their best defense of the season despite offensive struggles this month.
Published: December 10, 2021 | Updated: December 17th, 2021 at 9:28 pm
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Cole Swider and Buddy Boeheim combined for 11 points in Syracuse's loss to No. 6 Villanova at Madison Square Garden.

A group of Madison Square Garden employees broke down the Jimmy V Classic court a little after midnight on Wednesday morning.

Inside the press room some 100 feet away, Jim Boeheim appeared calm and spoke unhurriedly at the press conference microphone.

“If we played Villanova two-three weeks ago we would’ve had 15 (points) at halftime,” Boeheim said. “We’re not there, but we’re getting better.”

Junior point guard Joe Girard III sat to his right, Boeheim’s oldest son, Jimmy Boeheim, sat to his left. The two of them combined for 32 points in SU’s 67-53 loss to No. 6 Villanova on Tuesday night.

“Playing with three really good sharpshooters on the court all the time – makes it a lot easier on my end,” Jimmy said about his game-high 21 points. “I can just be really aggressive and try to score. Just knowing that and getting the ball in good spots, just taking advantage of that.”

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Jimmy Boeheim led the Orange with 21 points in their loss at the Jimmy V Classic.

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Jim Boeheim said he's pleased with his team and thinks they will improve.

Syracuse (5-4) led the Wildcats by three points at halftime but shot 32% from the floor and were outrebounded 29-17 in the second half.

“You don’t judge your team based on what you do in the game against a top five-six team in the country,” Jim said “We’re not there, but we showed some signs tonight that we’re going to get there.”

Since the Orange lost to then No. 18 Auburn at the Battle 4 Atlantis, they’ve won two of their last three games – an overtime victory over the Indiana Hoosiers and an ACC road win against Florida State. For parts of Tuesday night, it looked like the Wildcats would join that Orange hitlist.

A loss to one of the top teams in the country aside, players and Jim believe those “signs” of improvement are showing. Defensively, the team has progressed since allowing 100 points to Colgate in their first loss of the season on Nov. 20. The Orange limited FSU to 60 points before holding Villanova to its lowest point total of the season.

“It shows a lot how much we’ve grown on the defensive end especially, just playing really good defense, bothering shooters, just forcing turnovers and we’ve learned a lot,” Buddy Boeheim said. “This is a great stretch for us; learning who we are as a team, facing ups and downs.”

Buddy, who scored 17 or more points in SU’s first seven games of the season, scored six points in back-to-back games against the Seminoles and the Wildcats. He’s 0-9 from three over the two-game skid and is hitting less than a quarter of his shots.

“[I was] getting good looks but I just couldn’t make them. I was frustrated with how I played, definitely let the guys down,” Buddy said after playing Villanova. “Teammates and coaches were telling me to keep going, keep shooting and they just weren’t falling. Confidence was still there, still going. I just got to be better, that’s the bottom line.”

After posting a season-high 112 points over Indiana on Nov. 30, Syracuse scored 113 points combined in its last two games. SU is averaging 56.5 points per game and shooting 35.3% overall in December.

“For us to be successful offensively, we’re on the verge where we can get there, Cole [Swider] and Buddy have got to be guys that can score for us,” Jim said. “I think Jimmy has made a huge impact, I think Joe’s been really good and I think Jesse [Edwards] is getting there as well. We need to get Buddy and Cole going for sure and we will.”

SU’s next opportunity to snap its December offensive troubles presents itself on Saturday at noon in Washington D.C. Georgetown (4-4) and Syracuse have played 94 times in an all-time series the Orange lead 51-43. It’ll be Boeheim and Syracuse’s last road game of 2021 before hosting Lehigh, Cornell and Georgia Tech later this month.

“I think we’re going to get a lot better in the next few weeks,” Jim said. “With this group and this team, I’m really pleased with where we are.”

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Cole Swider speaks to the media after scoring five points and securing 12 rebounds against the Villanova Wildcats.