Syracuse defense buckles down, makes up for lackluster offense to send Syracuse to win over South Florida
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Syracuse turned in a lockdown performance defensively against South Florida, baffling the Bulls with its length and activity. USF settled for 3-pointer after 3-pointer – missing 12 straight at one point – as it tried to get back into the game.
The Bulls saw their chances crumble down the stretch thanks to two shot-clock violations caused in part by a suffocating SU defense on the perimeter.
Syracuse (14-1, 2-0 Big East) earned a hard-fought 55-44 victory over USF (9-4, 0-1) at the Sun Dome in Tampa, Fla., in a game in which both teams had trouble offensively. Brandon Triche and James Southerland finished with 20 and 17 points, respectively, sparking Syracuse at various points in the second half to seal the win.
But it was the team’s defense that won the Big East matchup on Sunday.
“Our offense was really bad, that’s all I can tell you,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said in the postgame press conference. “Really, really bad.”
Syracuse was a step behind as South Florida exploded out of the gate. The Bulls nailed its first three 3-pointers, owned the rebounding battle and rode Victor Rudd to an early nine-point lead.
Then USF went cold and the Orange came to life to end the first half on a 20-4 run. The Bulls missed their final seven 3-attempts while SU took control on the boards and found rhythm offensively behind Triche and C.J. Fair.
Triche went coast-to-coast to give SU a 24-23 lead and later split two defenders before finishing with ease in the lane. Fair added strong finishes on the break and hit a midrange jumper to send the Orange into the half up by seven.
“After the first part of the game, we played great defense,” Boeheim said in the postgame press conference, “and C.J. made a couple good plays and Brandon made a couple real good plays on the offensive end.”
The dominant stretch to end the half was the only positive Boeheim saw for his team on offense.
Michael Carter-Williams couldn’t finish a multitude of drives into the paint and went 1-for-13 from the field. Fair failed to score after the break and Rakeem Christmas and Baye Moussa Keita combined for two points in their 38 minutes of action.
“We came out in the second half and we had really good opportunities and we just couldn’t convert them,” Boeheim said in the postgame press conference.
Despite Syracuse’s rough day offensively, the team never trailed in the second half.
The 2-3 zone kept the Bulls and its star point guard Anthony Collins off balance while Triche and Southerland kept them at arm’s length.
The Bulls cut the Orange’s lead to three early in the half only to see it quickly grow to nine following a big block by Fair to start that ended with a two-handed slam by Southerland in transition.
Southerland scored the first nine points out of the break for SU, hitting a 3 and two jumpers to go with the dunk.
The Bulls would cut SU’s lead down to six points twice and battled to within five points down the stretch.
But Triche came through with a drive and finish with his left, a tip-in and a pull-up on the left baseline to keep Syracuse out in front in the tight matchup. And SU forced USF into the shot-clock violations to prevent them from getting any closer than five.
The defensive effort started with shutting down Collins, who entered the game fifth in the nation in assists per game.
“We stayed in front of him,” Boeheim said in the postgame press conference. “Our guards really did a good job and when he got in there, our big guys helped. That was the story of the game other than the bad offense by both teams that we were able to keep him in front of us.”
Southerland knocked in a 3 to push Syracuse’s lead to eight and seal the win. The big shot was a relief for Boeheim after watching a painful performance by his team offensively despite the win.
“You just can’t play that poorly on the offensive end of the court,” Boeheim said in the postgame press conference. “We really can’t but you get a win and you try to get better for Wednesday.”
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