Men's Basketball

Observations from Syracuse vs. VCU: Shooting struggles, foul trouble and more

Courtesy of Tim Aylen

Syracuse shot 29% from the field, Jesse Edwards got into foul trouble and Cole Swider was 0-of-7 from beyond the arc.

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Coming off a 15-point loss to Colgate where Syracuse allowed 18 3-pointers and struggled rebounding, the Orange dropped their Battle 4 Atlantis opener against VCU.

Head coach Jim Boeheim called the tournament a good early-season test for the Orange against high-level competition — he estimated that five to seven of the eight teams would make this year’s NCAA Tournament. Playing three games in three days this early in the year is beneficial too, Boeheim added.

“This is a great challenge and it should give you an idea of what you really need to do and what you need to work on,” Boeheim said on Tuesday.

Boeheim stuck with the same starting lineup he’s used so far this season, featuring Jimmy and Buddy Boeheim, Cole Swider, Jesse Edwards and Joe Girard. Here are some observations from Syracuse’s (2-2, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) 67-55 loss to VCU (3-2, 0-0 Atlantic-10) on Wednesday:


Struggles against VCU’s defense

The Rams entered Wednesday’s matchup with Syracuse ranked 26th in adjusted defensive efficiency and 14th in blocks, according to KenPom. Boeheim called the Rams unit “really, really good defensively” because of their variety of defensive looks and ability to get up and down the floor, he said.

Wednesday, it wasn’t pretty for the Orange. At times, they maneuvered around VCU’s full-court press, moving the ball swiftly. Still, there were 16 turnovers with a plethora of ugly moments. On one possession, KeShawn Curry nailed a 3-pointer to open the second half and then Jimmy’s ensuing inbound pass toward Swider was intercepted. On another, Buddy tried to bring the ball out of his own half but stumbled and was called for a travel.

Jimmy and Buddy tried to fight off the Rams’ defense, finishing with 37 points. They did just enough to navigate the press and find the open man, but there were too many dry stretches where the Orange didn’t make a field goal for over seven minutes. SU made one of the last 15 shots from the field at one point in the first half too.

In the second half, Swider was called for a shot clock violation immediately following an SU timeout. He grabbed a rebound after a missed 3-pointer, but the press was there instantly to turn him over.

The press, and VCU’s defense, made SU uncomfortable.

Bad shooting buries the Orange

Syracuse shot 24% from the field during the first half. It finished at 29%. For the Orange, the shots just didn’t fall. Still, SU entered the break with a four point lead because of a strong defensive display from its 2-3 zone. The Orange had four blocks and five steals during the first frame, and turned the Rams over 10 times.

SU’s offense looked uncomfortable, hoisting multiple shots that were rejected by VCU defenders. Other times, Syracuse secured offensive rebounds but faced too much pressure to successfully convert the second-chance points. And other times, like when Swider was wide-open, the Orange simply couldn’t connect on their shots.

Trailing by eight points with just over four minutes remaining, Buddy tried to rescue the Orange but couldn’t. He hoisted a jumper that rimmed out. Swider tried another 3. And another. None would drop.

Foul trouble for SU

Edwards ranked No. 1 nationally in block percentage before the VCU game, according to KenPom, and continued to show up with three blocks early in the first half. But Edwards also picked up his second personal foul with over 11 minutes left in the first frame, leading Boeheim to bench him for backup Frank Anselem.

Then Anselem picked up a shooting foul with eight minutes remaining, and another with just under two minutes, leading Boeheim to go to his small lineup. Boeheim had to go back to the smaller lineup in the second half too when Edwards picked up another two fouls in the first five minutes of the final half. Edwards fouled out with five minutes remaining.

Boeheim used Jimmy at center for a brief period during Syracuse’s preseason exhibition game, but explained that it was a last-ditch lineup that he hoped he wouldn’t have to use. Wednesday, that lineup closed out the half as SU played without a true center.

Buddy picked up two first-half fouls as well, including one where he tried to duck and protect himself as Curry leapt over him for a fast-break layup. Buddy’s two fouls didn’t keep him out of the game, however, and he finished with 20 points.

Cole Swider’s shooting slump continues

Swider entered Wednesday’s game shooting 3-of-15 from beyond the arc through three games this year. And against the Rams, those struggles from deep continued as he bricked three wide-open 3-pointers in the first half.

Still, Boeheim kept Swider in the game for 36 minutes. He’s a good perimeter shooter, Boeheim has reiterated on numerous occasions, but he’s also proved valuable as a defender, rebounder and more.

When the 3s weren’t falling, Swider went inside instead. He dished a swift pass to Edwards for an easy first-half dunk, though the center missed. Then, he dribbled down the baseline and nailed a jumper from the left side when his previous 3-point attempt from that same area didn’t connect. He picked out Edwards cutting along the baseline for 2, and cut along the baseline for a crucial second-half 2 on a pass from Jimmy.

But Swider still finished 2-of-14 from the field, and 0-of-7 from deep, and the slow start to his 2021-22 season continued.

A slow day for Joe Girard

Girard entered Wednesday’s matchup against VCU shooting 81.2% from beyond the arc, a clip that was the highest in Division-I basketball.

The point guard impressed as a facilitator in his first three games for Syracuse this year. He looked like a different player than the up-and-down one who showed up last year, though it was early in the year.

But the point guard recorded zero assists and six turnovers.

And moments after VCU nailed a wide-open 3-pointer in the second half to stretch the Rams lead to six points, Girard tried to answer. He drove down the floor and pulled up for a deep 3, well beyond the perimeter. But his attempt was miles off the mark, ending in an airball, a summary of his day for the Orange.

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