MBB : Syracuse’s man defense shines in 2nd half, shuts down Spiders
Jim Boeheim kept coming back to one point. No matter the question, it was always the same answer.
True, Jonny Flynn scored 19 points in the second half in a game Syracuse trailed by seven at halftime Tuesday night. And yes, Eric Devendorf’s personal 11-0 run may have been the offensive spark that propelled the Orange to its 76-71 win over Richmond at the Carrier Dome.
But Boeheim returned time and time again – four separate times in three minutes – to a refrain Syracuse fans are not used to hearing from their team’s head coach.
‘The difference in this game was our man-to-man defense,’ Boeheim said.
Not the 2-3 zone, Syracuse’s bread-and-butter for more than 30 seasons. Man-to-man. And if the Orange plays like it did in the second half Tuesday night all year, Boeheim might be inclined to turn to his man defense more often.
For the second consecutive game, Syracuse abandoned its traditional zone and played man-to-man for almost the whole contest, including the entire second half. After a lackluster first half, in which Richmond shot 58 percent from 3-point range, the Orange picked up the intensity and held the Spiders to one 3-pointer the rest of the way.
‘We came out much more fired up,’ SU guard Andy Rautins said. ‘We were a little passive in the first half. We got real motivated at halftime and came out and stopped them.’
Most importantly, Syracuse found a way to prevent Richmond’s guards from seeing open looks. The first half belonged to the Spiders’ David Gonzalvez and Kevin Anderson. The duo combined for 23 of Richmond’s 38 points and shot 6-of-7 from deep. Gonzalvez proved especially potent, hitting all five of his shots for 14 points, including four 3′s. At least two of those were from far beyond the arc.
Both players enjoyed uncontested shots against the Orange’s defense, which consistently failed to hustle back after missed shots and jump out at open shooters. Between lackadaisical defense by Syracuse and red-hot shooting by Gonzalvez and Anderson, Richmond appeared primed for an upset.
That’s why at halftime the Orange vowed to clamp down, especially on Gonzalvez.
‘He’s a great player, but it’s not too many times you can sit out there from 30 feet and keep hitting them all game,’ Flynn said. ‘Sooner or later, you have to cool down. We just tried to locate where he was at.’
In the second half, the Orange had a man on Gonzalvez virtually at all times. Flynn and Devendorf alternated for much of the period playing him the full length of the court, trying to prevent Gonzalvez from ever touching the ball.
The strategy could not have worked better. In the game’s final 20 minutes, Gonzalvez scored four points on 2-of-5 shooting for a total of 18. He took two more 3-pointers and missed both. Anderson scored six more points, finishing up with 15.
As the defensive pressure intensified, Gonzalvez became visibly frustrated, especially as Syracuse battled back into the game and started to extend its lead. Both of Gonzalvez’s 3-point attempts were from several feet behind the line and heavily contested. When he penetrated, he looked to the officials for foul calls that never came.
Finally, with five minutes left and Syracuse up nine, he threw his elbow out and knocked Flynn to the floor for an offensive foul. Gonzalvez started to open his mouth to protest, then put his head down and trudged to the other end of the court.
‘We got up on him and made him take tough shots,’ Devendorf said. ‘All the shots he had in the first half were uncontested. When you get a hand in the face, he couldn’t get shots off.’
Heading into the game, Devendorf said Syracuse had prepped for Richmond’s tendency to use backdoor cuts to score easy layups. When Gonzalvez and Anderson got hot, SU had to change its defensive attack.
By shutting down Gonzalvez in the second half, the Orange showed an important characteristic that could prove valuable as the season continues: the ability to adjust on defense.
‘We contested shots, got hands up in the face of the shooter and made it tough for them to make them,’ Devendorf said. ‘…It was good man-to-man pressure in the second half.’
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