Syracuse offense stymied by vicious Virginia defense

Vicious Virginia D stymies SU offense

The Orange manage to score only 34 points -- a record low for games played in the Carrier Dome.
Published: November 7, 2019
Marek Dolezaj under pressure during SU's loss to Virginia on Nov. 6, 2019.
Virginia players swarm junior forward Marek Dolezaj late in the second half during Tuesday's game in the Carrier Dome.

Shooters Shoot… Sometimes too much

Entering the matchup, many were skeptical about the prospect of an ACC matchup with the national champs on the very first night. After the game, Virginia Coach Tony Bennett expressed some concern and doubt that they would continue the practice every year. Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, never a mincer of words, was a little more incisive.

“You never want to play the league games early.” Boeheim said, “It’s stupid.”

Nonetheless, the ball was tipped, and the season was underway. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was an incredibly slow start. The Orange faithful had to wait nearly two full minutes to sit down when Bourama Sidibe scored the first basket; a feat Syracuse waited a long while to repeat.

It took another nine minutes for the Orange to get a point. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers put up 13. It was a lead Syracuse couldn’t overcome, due nearly entirely to their fundamental issues. In their tune-up matches, they learned they could shoot, and they took that approach for most of the game. The trouble came from their inability to land a shot. Boeheim credited the Virginia defense in his press conference, saying they were probably the best defense they would face all season. However, when your offense goes 7-27 from the field and 3-14 from three in the first half, defense becomes somewhat negligible. Perhaps more peculiar, Virginia also struggled to land shots.

What made the difference was rebounding. Syracuse failed to push toward the basket and leave their shooters open. As a result, not only was each shot contested, their bigs were spread out, and they couldn’t get the rebound. By the end of the first half, Virginia had 25 rebounds, while Syracuse only had 10. It’s pretty simple math: if your team gets the ball more and the opponent can’t shoot, no matter how much you miss, the probability is on your side. It’s that arithmetic that led Virginia to a score of 25-19 in their favor going into the half.

Joseph Girard III shoots a basket during SU's loss to Virginia on Nov. 6, 2019.
Freshman guard Joseph Girard III shoots a basket during SU's loss to Virginia.

Salt City Slowdown

When Jim Boeheim entered the Carrier Dome, they played Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” and as the game continued, no one would blame the man for longing for the days of their 2003 National Championship. With Carmelo Anthony visiting, Boeheim conceded that he would’ve liked to have the star on the court tonight.

It was clear that the team needed to change its game plan. They continued to miss shots, and their main pushes seemed to come when Marek Dolezaj, Bourama Sidibe, and Elijah Hughes could get rebounds and maintain possession; however, none of that was possible without some strong driving toward the hoop. They started to begin working their way toward the basket, but Virginia was there the whole time.

It’s a point Boeheim readily acknowledged, saying that was the true strength of Virginia’s defense. Syracuse couldn’t hit their numerous wild shots, and the Cavaliers kept them from crashing down low, allowing Virginia to snatch nearly every rebound. Coach Boeheim also accepted some blame, saying he has room to improve as well. The Hall of Famer admitted that he could have coached better to give the team more opportunities to set screens and generate some points.

They ended the night with 28 rebounds to Virginia’s 47. The errors were costly, and UVA’s 16 turnovers meant little when the Orange only managed to 23.6% of their field goals and 17.2% of their three-point attempts. The mistakes allowed the Cavalier standouts Mamai Diakite, Jay Huff and Kihei Clark to dominate with 12, 11, and 10 points, respectively. The game simply petered out, as most of the fans had already left, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of many as the final score read 48-34. Despite the frustration, there is certainly some potential moving forward.

Coach Jim Boeheim talks to Quincy Guerrier on the bench during SU's loss to Virginia on Nov. 6, 2019.
Coach Jim Boeheim talks to freshman forward Quincy Guerrier on the bench.

Moving Forward

Elijah Hughes is so far as good as advertised. He scored 14 points, which was nearly half of the team’s points. Dolezaj was the catalyst for most of their few electric plays and decent presses. Freshman Joe Girard continued to be a promising candidate for a starting job. He managed to generate some genuine plays in the second half, and as he progresses, he looks to take on a bigger role throughout the season. In particular, as a freshman on a Jim Boeheim team, he looks primed to be an impressive player.

Next up, the Orange will face a revitalized Colgate University program. What would ordinarily be a given, is set to be a fun matchup thanks to Colgate’s qualification for the NCAA Tournament last year. That game will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 13, at the Carrier Dome.

Former SU basketball great Carmelo Anthony attends the UVA vs Syracuse game at the Carrier Dome on Nov. 6
SU basketball legend Carmelo Anthony attended Tuesday's men's basketball season opener.