Men's Basketball

Poor perimeter shooting exposes lack of Orange inside game against Dieng, Louisville

Chase Gaewski | Photo Editor

Louisville center Gorgui Dieng looks to pass away from Syracuse forward James Southerland in the Cardinals' 58-53 win over the Orange on Saturday. Dieng finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

This isn’t supposed to be such a glaring issue. Syracuse’s outside game is supposed to mask its lackluster inside presence at the offensive end of the floor.

Instead, the Orange’s shooters are only exposing the problem even more.

At a time when Syracuse’s outside shots aren’t falling consistently, its centers aren’t providing the production the Orange needs in the low post. No. 10 Louisville (24-5, 12-4 Big East) center Gorgui Dieng, second in the Big East in offensive rebounding, magnified Syracuse’s uninspiring inside game in the Cardinals’ 58-53 win over the No. 12 Orange (22-7, 10-6) on Saturday.

Dieng finished with 14 rebounds, 10 on the defensive glass, to go along with his 11 points. Meanwhile Syracuse’s centers, Rakeem Christmas, and Baye Moussa Keita, combined for two points and six rebounds.

“We’re going with the two guys that give us the best chance defensively because we should have enough offense with the way the other guys are playing,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”

The Orange had another dismal shooting performance, finishing 20-for-56 (35.7 percent) from the field. Off its 36 missed shots, Syracuse only grabbed 13 offensive rebounds, and scored a measly seven second-chance points. The two issues – cold shooting and insufficient offensive rebounds – are a concern for the Orange less than two weeks before the start of the postseason.

Even when Syracuse’s centers snagged offensive rebounds, they weren’t taking care of the basketball to take advantage. Early in the game, C.J. Fair missed a jumper, Christmas snared the rebound but lost the ball out of bounds.

Christmas and Keita were 1-for-2 from the field combined. Christmas scored two points on a dunk that made it 28-25 Louisville about three minutes into the second half.

“The thing that bothers me about our centers is they’re in position to get rebounds that they don’t get,” Boeheim said. “They get a rebound and they miss a layup. Layups aren’t that hard. This is college basketball. You’ve got to be able to make a layup. You’ve got to be able to catch the ball and put it in the basket.”

Syracuse had virtually no inside presence. Louisville, though, had sheer dominance in the low post in Dieng. The 6-foot-11 Senegal native was a nightmare down low. He can also knock down mid-range jumpers, which he did early to give the Cardinals an 8-7 lead. He finished up with three assists, or two more than Christmas and Keita racked up together.

“He made that shot once so we have to guard and respect that,” Keita said. “Rebounding, we have to box him out because every time the shot goes up, everybody on that team is going to crash the boards. So we just tried to defend that.”

Dieng was more of a threat defensively. Fair said he had two opportunities to drive the lane from the high post but immediately met Dieng, who quickly slid his feet in position to interrupt Fair’s path to the basket.

But Dieng’s 10 boards on the defensive glass made a difference in the game.

“He does a great job rebounding, talking on defense, controlling his team,” forward James Southerland said. “If he’s not blocking shots, he’s altering them so you have to adjust when he’s playing you. He can move his feet. He can put the ball on the ground a little bit. He has a nice all-around game.”

For the first time since Jan. 26, Syracuse had a third center to turn to in freshman DaJuan Coleman, who underwent knee surgery and missed the last five weeks. He played only three minutes against Louisville, and missed his only field-goal attempt. Coleman’s the better of the three centers offensively. But he’ll likely need more game action before he can produce at a level fulfilling his potential.

So Syracuse is faced with a challenge – one amplified against Dieng on Saturday – in which it’s missing shots and failing to get the putbacks. With so many teams playing zone against the Orange, defenses are focusing only on the perimeter and paying no attention to the low post, Boeheim said.

And as Syracuse’s opponents continue to get tougher, the games more meaningful, the Orange needs to find the inside-outside balance it’s been lacking for much of the season.

Said Boeheim: “That’s something we have to do if we’re going to be a good team at the end of the year.”

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