Men's Basketball

Syracuse zone exploited on the inside in 83-73 loss to Virginia Tech

Colin Davy | Asst. Photo Editor

After winning two consecutive games, Syracuse fell to the Hokies on Tuesday night.

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Zach LeDay snuck behind Tyler Lydon and slammed home a dunk. Forty-seven seconds later, it happened again. A minute and a half after that, Chris Clarke found the same hole. Another open passing lane and another uncontested dunk.

Three times in the first eight minutes, Virginia Tech launched a pass straight through Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense from the top of the key. The Hokies jumped out to an eight-point lead and never looked back.

Virginia Tech (13-3, 2-2 Atlantic Coast) scored 36 points in the paint, many of which came off of passes from the top of the key to the low block and right underneath the basket. The Orange (10-7, 2-2) adjusted, but not well enough to prevent an 83-73 loss to the Hokies at Cassell Coliseum on Tuesday night in Blacksburg, Virginia. LeDay and Clarke combined for 39 points and converted on 14-of-19 field goals while slicing through the interior of SU’s defense.


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“I thought our interior defense was not good in either half,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said, “and I thought that was a big key.”

The Hokies entered the game with five players averaging better than 38 percent from 3-point range and 39.9 percent as a team. Syracuse, meanwhile, has struggled defending the 3 against opponents throughout the season. As a result, the Orange’s wings pressed out toward the arc when VT handled the ball at the top of the key. That’s what left the low post open.

With SU’s guards paying attention to the ball-handler, Syracuse’s center, either Tyler Lydon or Taurean Thompson, slid toward the free-throw line to mark the high post. The VT player camped out under the basket was free. The wings, Andrew White, Tyler Roberson and occasionally Lydon, were caught. The responsibility fell on the center and wings, Boeheim said, but none were in the right spots.

“I don’t think it’s something we can’t do,” Roberson said of defending the low block. “I think we were just focused on the 3-point shooters.”

The adjustment Syracuse made was for its wings to pinch in more, White said. But the way the Hokies overloaded two shooters and a player in the low post all on the same side put the zone in a predicament.

Later in the first half, SU cut the deficit to just one. But LeDay again caught a pass on the low block with space to finish. It was less space than the start of the game as Thompson and Roberson were in his face, but LeDay made the basket, drew a foul and hit the free throw. Syracuse never came as close as one again. The Hokies’ spacing and passing buried the Orange.

“That’s what kind of negated the zone tonight,” White said.

Syracuse battled back in the second half, though, and was within three points with just over 10 minutes to play after a 15-6 run. A Tyus Battle 3-pointer forced VT head coach Buzz Williams to call a 30-second timeout as the Orange had its most momentum of the game.

On the ensuing Virginia Tech possession, the Hokies again turned to what worked best. LeDay was wide open. He caught the pass from Clarke and finished with a dunk.

“They were making the direct pass from the perimeter, which has never happened to us,” Boeheim said. “The forwards were not moving. We just weren’t in good position. Our center wasn’t in good position.”

In the Orange’s two prior games, wins over Miami and Pittsburgh, the zone was at its best of the season. Guards were shutting off passing and driving lanes, forwards were closing out and everyone was rotating effectively. After previously surrendering a combined 189 points in two games against St. John’s and Boston College, a corner seemed to have finally been turned.

But against the Hokies, SU’s defense regressed and was beat in a new way.

“I think they forgot we won two games in a row because our defense was good,” Boeheim said. “Our defense was horrendous tonight.”

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