Syracuse, N.Y. — What a difference a week makes.
On Jan. 16, Pittsburgh dropped the hammer on Syracuse, scoring 64 second-half points on the way to a 96-76 victory.
On Saturday, the Orange rolled past No. 16 Virginia Tech, 78-60. It was the second-straight blowout victory for Syracuse and the second-straight opponent it held to 60 points or less.
The Orange still has plenty of work to do to shine up its NCAA Tournament resume, but Saturday’s win over the Hokies was a solid step in that direction.
“It’s huge for us,’’ said Syracuse senior Marek Dolezaj, who scored 18 points in the win. “We needed to beat someone good. It’s (great) for our resume.’’
“I think we’re playing better,’’ Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It’s been a difficult season. There’s no other way to say it with the ups and downs and all the things you have to go through.’’
Syracuse has found a groove after hitting several speed bumps due to Covid pauses and lost practice time.
Another big test awaits the Orange right away as Syracuse will travel to No. 13 Virginia tomorrow night.
“We’re going to play a great team, I think the best team in the league probably by the end of the year and right now, really, Virginia,’’ Boeheim said. “They’re playing great. That’ll be a really tough test. Their team is just so good offensively and defensively.’’
The Sunny Side
The Great Griffin
Alan Griffin bounced back from a tough performance against Miami with a strong effort against Virginia Tech.
Griffin recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He was a tone-setter on the defensive end, blocking seven shots and collecting three steals.
Griffin came out of the gate with tremendous energy and maintained it all game. Early in the game, he collected a block on one end of the floor, leading to a follow jam on the other. Griffin had five rebounds in the first 10 minutes. He took advantage of matchups and attacked the rim all game.
Griffin was decisive, confident and versatile against the Hokies after not being a factor Tuesday night against the Hurricanes (just five points in 16 minutes).
“I thought Alan was really good today,” Boeheim said. “He really rebounded and just really did a lot of good things. His last game was not good and he really bounced back today.”
“We need him,” Marek Dolezaj said. “His seven blocks were great. These last few games he’s played really good defense and we need that.”
Virginia Tech came into Saturday’s game as the team with a defensive reputation. The Hokies were allowing just 64.6 points per game, which ranks third in the ACC behind Virginia and Clemson.
Syracuse had something to say about that, putting together one of its best defensive performances of the season against the Hokies.
The Hokies shot 32.8 percent (20-of-61). Keve Aluma, Virginia Tech’s leading scorer and rebounder, (14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game) was held to two points and four rebounds, shooting 1-of-10.
Syracuse blocked eight shots. Virginia Tech did not block a shot. SU had seven steals to Virginia Tech’s two.
Saturday was the second-straight clampdown on defense for the Orange. It held Miami to 57 points on Tuesday night.
After a hot start at the 3-point line, Virginia Tech’s outside shooting was stymied by the Orange. The Hokies made five of their first 10 attempts from 3-point range, with Nahiem Alleyne connecting on four. Virginia Tech was 3-for-19 from 3-point range from that point of the game. Alleyne didn’t hit another shot from beyond the arc until the game’s final minute.
Jalen Cone, the Hokies’ biggest outside threat — he leads the ACC in 3-point field goals made (3.00 per game) and ranks second in 3-point field goal percentage (.390) — was 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.
“The defense was the difference-maker,” Boeheim said. “We had a slow start, but after they hit a couple threes early, we did a better job of getting them off their spots. We made some really good steals and Marek was good down low.”
Syracuse used its distinct size advantage to power through the paint with ease.
The Orange destroyed the Hokies in the paint, 46-24.
Quincy Guerrier continued his dominant stretch, scoring 20 points and grabbing nine rebounds, nearly collecting his seventh double-double of the season.
Guerrier scored nine of Syracuse’s points in a 13-3 stretch to give the Orange a 19-point lead, 67-48, with seven minutes to play. Guerrier also displayed the growing versatility in his game on one play. He drew in the Hokies defense on one dribble and found Griffin for an easy pass at the top of the key for a wide open 3-pointer.
“We got Quincy down in low, and that’s what we wanted to do there. Then we got Alan down there with smaller guys on them. I thought we were smart down there and finished better.” Boeheim said.
“This was a game to attack the basket, go to the foul line and try to get around the basket area,” Boeheim said. “And that’s what we did.”
Marek Dolezaj, who took one shot and did not score when SU beat Miami earlier in the week, was aggressive all game. He scored 14 of 18 points in the first half, attacking the rim often. He played all 40 minutes Saturday, putting up an impressive 8-for-8 mark from the free-throw line.
“Every game is different,” Boeheim said of Dolezaj. “Some teams are more capable of defending him. They had a difficult time with him at the center position. Their big guy is a really good offensive player. He had trouble guarding him. But there are some games when he has a matchup problem and may not score.”
A 4-of-13 mark from 3-point range would normally signal a bad effort from the Syracuse backcourt.
But with much of the action in the paint, Syracuse’s backcourt wasn’t called into duty as much as usual against the Hokies. It still made an impact.
Kadary Richmond overcame early foul trouble to come off the bench and score 13 points in 15 minutes of action.
Richmond displayed a pretty spin move to the hoop past Virginia Tech’s Hunter Cattoor, backed down smaller defenders and dished a sweet pass to Dolezaj. He even hit a 3-pointer, just his second of the season.
Joe Girard’s 3-point prowess wasn’t needed against the Hokies. That usually means a quick trip to the bench. Not this game. Girard scrapped out five points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
The Dark Side
Buddy Boeheim took a step back against the Hokies after a stretch of four games where he averaged 18.5 points per contest.
Boeheim shot 3-of-13, including a 1-of-5 mark from distance. He scored just seven points against Virginia Tech. That followed a season-high 23 points against the Hurricanes.
Boeheim had some noteworthy lags on the defensive end, even in a game where Syracuse most excelled in that department, and held onto the ball far too long on a few possessions.
It should be noted one thing that opened the paint for the Orange was Hokies defenders not wanting to leave Boeheim and Girard open on the perimeter. So even in a game where Boeheim wasn’t productive in the boxscore, he helped the cause.
Did that justify Boeheim playing 38 minutes against the Hokies? That’s up for debate.
Jesse Edwards was a big contributor in Tuesday’s win against Miami but barely made a blip in Saturday’s game, playing just two minutes.
Robert Braswell and Woody Newton also did not check into the game, even with victory well within hand down the stretch.
This, That and the Other Thing
- Syracuse’s last win over a ranked team before Saturday was a 63-55 overtime win over Virginia on Jan. 11, 2020.
- Syracuse leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech, 11-5.
- In SU history, 10 players have had more than seven blocks in a game. All 10 were 6-foot-9 or taller. Griffin, who had seven blocks against the Hokies, is 6-foot-5. (Stat courtesy of Mike Waters.)
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