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Saturday, Dec 15, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Syracuse Men’s Basketball Struggles Against Old Dominion

By Ally Heath

CitrusTV Men’s Basketball Reporter

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In a game riddled with fouls, Syracuse (7-3, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) struggled to take advantage of the charity stripe. Old Dominion (8-3, 0-0 Conference-USA) committed 25 fouls to put SU on the line 34 times, but that wasn’t enough to give the Orange their eighth non-conference win.

The Monarchs came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to stun the Orange in the Carrier Dome, winning 68-62 to hand ‘Cuse its first home loss of the season. Old Dominion got the lead back with 3:54 left in the game, with Syracuse being forced to watch BJ Stith sink three free throws in a game where the Orange struggled at the line, and the visitors never looked back.

“I thought they were more physical than we were,” said Head Coach Jim Boeheim. “They got on the boards better, they made a couple big shots.”

But Boeheim said the team should have been able to overcome that. Poor shooting across the board left points, and momentum, on the table late in the game.

“We’re not making anything, that’s the bottom line,” proclaimed the 43-year head coach. “We missed so many key shots there, to stay ahead, and playing at home, you have to make those shots.”

Frank Howard, one of two seniors who regularly get playing time, said the team wasn’t in the right mental space to pull out the win and make some of those key missed free throws.

“It kinda started at practice, we missed some free throws yesterday and that carried over a little bit,” Howard said. “We all missed some today, and in that aspect of the game, I expect us to be better. I think the game was a little bigger than that, though, free throws, I think we just didn’t execute what we were trying to do.”

Tyus Battle, the lone bright spot for the Orange with a team-high 23 points, echoed Howard in saying that the struggles today were more mental, an inability to focus on making shots and making smart defensive plays.  Immediately following the game, Battle went back onto the Carrier Dome floor to try and work on his free throws after going 11-15 from the charity stripe.

Boeheim also harped on the play of his big men at the rim, especially on the defensive end, saying they have not been able to match the physicality of their opponents this season. But Paschal Chukwu says it’s because they’re trying to avoid foul trouble.

“I don’t want to pick up stupid fouls,” Chukwu said. “Towards the end I was starting becoming more aggressive because I thought we needed it, but in the beginning, I was a little more hesitant to go for it because I don’t want to pick up fouls.”

It’s questionable as to whether the Orange can afford to be hesitant on the floor if it wants to keep hopes of playing in late March alive; no Syracuse team has ever made the NCAA Tournament with three non-conference losses.

Whether the root of the Orange’s problems was mental or physical, the team will have to make adjustments quickly. Syracuse takes the court again on Tuesday against No. 14 Buffalo at 8 p.m., looking for their second top-25 win of the season.

aheath@syr.edu | @AllyLHeath