I am starting to think I should create a Mad-Lib like template for these articles. They would all go something like this: “Eagles came in expected to get blown out by a much more talented and successful (insert any ACC team name) team, they entered halftime in a (insert number under 4) point game. The Eagles then actually (insert tied or took the lead) with about 10 minutes to go in the game. Then, the disparity in talent exposed, the Eagles made some bad decisions, and finally finished with a tough loss.”
Wednesday night’s game against Syracuse would have perfectly fit this template, as the Eagles fell to the Orange 70-56. This is a down year for Cuse, but a down year for the storied program under Hall-of-fame Coach Jim Boeheim is still a heck of a season with a heck of a team.
The Eagles' game plan—from a defensive standpoint—was actually not bad. When the Eagles traveled to play the Orange in the Carrier Dome earlier this season, Rakeem Christmas hurt them in the paint every minute he was on the floor. Fortunately for the Eagles in that contest, the senior big-man was in foul trouble all night.
Unfortunately, the were instead torched by junior guard Michael Gbinije. This time around, Coach Christian prepared his team very well and tried to take Christmas entirely out of the game.
The standout senior who averages nearly 19 points per game only managed 7 against the Eagles last night. For a team that usually struggles mightily with interior defense, this was a very impressive effort. Dennis Clifford deserves some credit here, as he did a great job of making sure that Rakeem never caught the ball in the spot from which he wanted to attack.
This meant Christmas would have to get the ball on the floor and take time to get to his spots on the court, giving BC defenders time to get to him, and even form a double team. Boeheim commented on this strategy by the Eagles for handling Christmas so well, saying that he thought Christmas “passed the ball very well out of the double,” and “deserved more assists than he was put down for.” However, I think the five turnovers for Christmas beg to differ. Christmas was a non-factor Wednesday night.
Gbinije, on the other hand, was once again a huge factor. He had an incredibly efficient night, going 8-11 from the floor with a pair of triples while finishing the night with 21 points, seven boards, and four assists. His extra length compared to the perimeter players trying to guard him allowed him to get off some tough shots in traffic and in the paint. Throw in 15 from Trevor Cooney and two other double-digit scorers, the Orange had all they really needed to win this one.
The Eagles, each game, seem to be able to entirely take away a team’s front court, like they did this game, against Louisville with Montrezl Harrel, and against UVA with swingman Justin Anderson. Mind you in these games the guards of their opponent, Gibinije, Perrantes, Jones and Rozier, still dominate. Then there are other games where the Eagles can just remove the opposing back court from the equation—UNC with Marcus Paige, Duke with Tyus Jones, and Notre Dame with Jerian Grant—a player who hardly had an impact against the Eagles.
It is in these games in which the Eagles get annihilated on the glass and in points in the paint. And in these games, the Eagles consistently come up just shy of making the total defensive effort they need to upset one of their tough conference opponents.
Offensively the Eagles just looked frustrated and confused against the patented Boeheim 2-3 zone. They knew they had to move the ball quickly, but their zone offense seemed too complex for their own good, especially when Dimitri Batten was slinging passes into the student section. The one huge hole they did find was with the 5-man at the free-throw stripe area. Clifford caught balls in that hole in the zone all night and was virtually unguarded there. Yet on his five wide open attempts from that area, he only knocked down one shot.
Will Magarity, who would have been perfect for exploiting that hole in the zone, came back from a concussion this game. However, Magarity only played 6 minutes. When asked if this was health related, Coach Christian flatly said, “No. He wasn’t playing well. Those were his six minutes.” Christian did later attribute some of the poor play to the fact that Will hadn’t practiced and was a bit “timid” after coming back from the concussion.
Aaron Brown and Olivier Hanlan each, as usual, had decent night of scoring. Given how packed in that zone was, Brown shined more, as he is more of a spot-up jump shooter than Hanlan. Hanlan couldn’t really attack off the bounce as he likes to do because of how well Boeheim’ team plays that defense and rotates.
The Eagles did enter half down just four, and had the game down to one point with under 13 minutes to go, but defensive lapses struck, as always, and the offense went stagnant. This one seemed to hurt the Eagles more than the others, as the players and Coach Christian were all visibly frustrated after the game.
The Eagles will get another chance to end their streak of tough ACC loses this Sunday at 6:30 at Conte against the Miami Hurricanes.
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