Syracuse fans knew heading into the 2013-14 season that, while this year’s team was loaded with potential, it was also just as full of question marks. For the Orange, those question marks all came to the forefront as Syracuse escaped a colossal upset at the hands of St. Francis Brooklyn by the narrowest of margins.
The Orange put together about as poor a performance as they could muster, trailing St. Francis for most of the second half before forcing a pair of key turnovers and converting at the other end in the final minute of action to emerge with a 56-50 win. But it’s certainly not a victory many Syracuse fans will be happy about. In fact, most, while gladly taking a win, will be left wondering exactly what kind of team they have on their hands this season.
The game was also a blueprint for how to beat Syracuse, because any good team would have easily toppled the Orange with the way they played tonight, including arguably the worst performance in CJ Fair‘s entire collegiate career. The senior All-America candidate was a non-factor offensively, and his lack of presence in the scoring column forced Syracuse to face one of its biggest question marks heading into the year: who, outside of Fair, can become a consistent scorer?
Tonight, the answer was a resounding “no one.” Jerami Grant had 13 points and eight boards, but missed several free throws before finally knocking down two clutch freebies at the end. DaJuan Coleman actually led the Orange with 14 points and seemed to be having his way with the Terriers but played just 18 minutes, and sat for the vast majority of the second half as Jim Boeheim decided that defense, and not offense, was a higher priority. Trevor Cooney scored 12, but like Coleman, sat on the bench for long stretches during the second half in favor of Michael Gbinije.
That was one of several head scratching decisions made by the Hall of Fame coach, and one which helped further expose the flaws his team needs to desperately remedy before they take on stiffer competition. One such flaw is the apparent lack of any sort of fluidity on offense, or any semblance of a half-court offense to begin with. The Orange tonight looked lost when forced to try to run a real offensive set, which too often amounted to little more than a guard dribbling around while everyone else stood rooted to one spot, waiting for something to happen.
In turn, that leads to yet another major question Syracuse fans have: why the heck not try to force the tempo?
It was clear from the start that St. Francis was going to try to slow the game down to a crawl, and for some inexplicable reason, Boeheim simply allowed it to happen. Despite the fact that the Orange were having no success in the half-court setting and were vastly superior athletically, not to mention that transition is where Syracuse does most of its damage year in and year out, Boeheim did not choose to employ a full court press until there was 3:39 left in the game. For many Orange fans, it felt like a redux of ugly, heartbreaking losses in the NCAA Tournament to Vermont and Butler.
Fortunately for the Orange, a few timely steals and a 10-0 run to end the game prevented what would have been one of the most devastating early season losses in recent program history. With a trip to the Maui Invitational looming, the Orange need to address some of the glaring issues that came up tonight, or else things could get ugly in a hurry against better competition.