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North Carolina defeated Syracuse on Tuesday by using its size to dominate the paint. It was that simple.
Syracuse center Marek Dolezaj (one rebound) surrendered at least 50 pounds to three UNC monsters, and the Tar Heels promptly outrebounded SU 48 to 31. UNC scored 24 second-chance points on 24 offensive rebounds.
But the three-minute stretch in which UNC rattled off a 13-0 run is where Syracuse lost control of the game. That sequence began when Joe Girard III hit a 3 to put Syracuse up 56-51, but it then unraveled as follows:
Turnover. Turnover. Missed 3. Turnover. Missed 3.
Scoring isn’t Syracuse’s most pressing issue, but long dry spells are becoming a troubling trend for SU. Here’s what went wrong offensively during Tuesday night’s 3-minute drought:
Girard Turnover: RJ Davis “ices” the screen
Syracuse sets up a high ball screen for Girard and Dolezaj — SU sometimes calls this play “fist” — with shooters in the corners and Quincy Guerrier manning the weak side block. It’s good spacing, which should allow Girard to get downhill, if he can turn the corner, and to eventually kick to a shooter, if North Carolina defenders help off.
Davis, guarding Girard in the middle of the floor, fights over the first Dolezaj pick. The forward then re-screens, but this time Girard starts closer to the sideline, so UNC defends it differently. Davis beats Girard to the screen, cutting him off and forcing him to reject the screen back to the sideline.
This defensive strategy is called icing the screen. It’s designed to keep ballhandlers out of the middle and is mostly employed on side pick and rolls.
Instead of turning back to the sideline, Girard tries to dribble through Davis, but Davis is in position for the steal. Dolezaj has a tendency to slip screens or not set them fully. This makes it easier for Davis to play Girard physically and rip the ball for a turnover.
On Syracuse’s prior offensive possession, Girard spotted up on the right wing and nailed a catch-and-shoot 3. Seemingly all of his 3-point makes have come with his feet set. Perhaps a lower dosage of pick and rolls and more off-ball action could be in the cards.
Buddy Boeheim’s uncharacteristic poor decision leads to UNC breakout
After a scorching hot first half, Boeheim was held scoreless in the second by Leaky Black, UNC’s best on-ball defender.
Although he’s a very smart player, Boeheim’s not the most comfortable playmaker. His career-high in assists in a single game is four.
On this play, Syracuse runs Boeheim off a Guerrier down-screen. Boeheim catches on the right wing without enough space to release, so he tries to drive on Black. Black cuts him off, and Boeheim picks his dribble up too early. Stuck in the paint, he looks to kick out to Girard on the opposite wing, but Davis jumps the passing lane and flies down the court for an easy 2.
Alan Griffin misses wide-open corner 3
Out of a timeout, Syracuse spaces the floor for Dolezaj up top. All night, both Dolezaj and Guerrier used their quickness to take advantage of North Carolina’s slow-footed bigs.
This play was no different. Dolezaj gets a step on Armando Bacot, draws North Carolina’s strong-side help defender and kicks to a wide-open Griffin in the corner for one of the most efficient shots in basketball.
Griffin has all day to set his feet and fire. All season, the 36.1% 3-point shooter has sunk tough turnarounds and contested triples. Maybe he had too much time, because his shot here bounced off the iron.
They’re not all going to go down. Although the result doesn’t show it, this is outstanding offense.
Miscommunication leads to dead-ball turnover
Girard and Boeheim are almost always on the same page. In this case, though, they weren’t.
After a Day’Ron Sharpe bucket, it looks like Syracuse is running a play in semi-transition. Boeheim tries to fade from the wing to the corner and Girard lofts a pass there, but Boeheim stops on the cut. It looks like a wide receiver quitting on a route, and Girard’s pass sails out of bounds six seconds into the shot clock.
It’s unclear exactly who was at fault for the miscommunication, but all five pairs of Syracuse eyes watch the pass bounce out of play.
Boeheim misses a good look
SU overloads the left side of the court, leaving only Boeheim and Guerrier on the right. The floor’s balanced and spaced, even with non-shooter Kadary Richmond in the game.
Syracuse likes to use Dolezaj as the trigger man because he’s a great passer and defenders usually give him a cushion on the perimeter, which opens up passing lanes.
With little pressure in his face from Bacot, Dolezaj easily finds Boeheim curling off Guerrier’s screen, which creates plenty of shooting space. Boeheim just misses.
Like the Griffin miss, this is good execution. Boeheim’s made this shot countless times in his career; he just went cold in the second half.
SU’s five-point lead turned into an eight-point deficit in three minutes. Three turnovers and two missed threes will do that. As head coach Jim Boeheim said postgame, Syracuse needed to be nearly perfect on offense because of their size disadvantage in the frontcourt.
That’s a high bar, and these three minutes didn’t get there. Usually the Orange’s dry spells have come when they stray away from attacking the basket and settle for too many jump shots. Here, it was a combination of carelessness, miscommunication and missing open looks.
BONUS: Joe Girard mic’d up pregame
Girard was feeling himself hours before tipoff. He was loose, joking with teammates, giggling and singing Lil Tjay. Anyone who’s played basketball knows this pregame feeling.
The highlights: Chirping the manager’s haircut, the Boeheim-eating-too-many-Krispy-Kreme-donuts bit and Director of Operations Peter Corasaniti drilling a halfcourt shot.
Boeheim, a noted SpongeBob superfan, also laughs along as Girard name-drops the “Salty Splatoon” and “Weenie Hut Jr.’s,” two fine culinary establishments in the show’s Bikini Bottom. Girard then puts him on blast for still having SpongeBob shower curtains.
Can confirm Buddy Boeheim is a huge SpongeBob fan. Wore the same SpongeBob socks almost every game in high school. Rakeem Christmas gifted him a SpongeBob backpack in ’14. Childhood bedroom decked out in Bikini Bottom merch.
Quote from Buddy’s HS coach Jeff Ike⬇️ pic.twitter.com/ytcX5OLxKx
— Danny Emerman (@DannyEmerman) January 12, 2021
Basketball is very fun. More of this, please.
Screenshots via ESPN
Published on January 13, 2021 at 10:09 pm
Contact Danny: firstname.lastname@example.org | @DannyEmerman