Syracuse sputtering as conference play looms

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Even though the nonconference portion of the schedule isn't quite over for Syracuse, the reeling Orange have a lot of soul searching to do if they hope to have a chance to play deep into March.

Syracuse (7-5) was ranked in the top 20 prior to the start of the season, but the Orange have been wildly inconsistent in dropping a school-record five nonconference games in the first six weeks of play. The latest was a 93-60 walloping by St. John's on Wednesday night in the normally friendly confines of the Carrier Dome.

That was by far the worst home loss in coach Jim Boeheim's more than four decades at the helm, and it came just two nights after a rousing 105-57 victory over Eastern Michigan.

''Based on the start of the season, how we played since the start of the season, totally expected,'' Boeheim said. ''If we don't change and play better defense and get better movement and get better guard play, it's going to continue. This won't change.''

Against Eastern Michigan, eight players scored in double figures and the Orange shot 59 percent, including a season-high 15 of 28 (53.6 percent) from beyond the arc. Against the Red Storm, Syracuse shot 33 percent from the field and just 17 percent from beyond the arc (4 of 24).

Syracuse started the season with victories over Colgate, Holy Cross, Monmouth and South Carolina State, then faltered badly against teams at the upper levels of Division I. Losses to South Carolina and Wisconsin started the slide, and it's been up-and-down since.

Boeheim didn't hesitate to accept blame for the latest debacle.

''This game is all on me. I didn't get them ready to do what we needed to do,'' he said. ''It's not the players.''

The players disagreed.

''He's not out there playing. He's a coach, he has to say that,'' sophomore guard Frank Howard said. ''It's not on him, it's on us. It's solely on us.''

Prior to this season, Boeheim had accepted only a handful of transfers in his coaching career at his alma mater. This year he has three. Towering 7-foot-2 sophomore center Paschal Chukwu transferred from Providence and sat out last season, but he underwent eye surgery on Saturday and is out indefinitely.

The other two are Andrew White, a transfer from Nebraska by way of Kansas, and John Gillon, a transfer from Colorado State. Both are fifth-year players with the Orange for just one year.

White and Gillon were counted on to help fill the significant void left by the departures of Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney and Malachi Richardson, the top three scorers from last season's Final Four team and its most vocal leaders. That task has proved difficult.

White leads the team in scoring (15) and Gillon is third (9.6), but the intensity and fierceness that was apparent last season - on the court and in the locker room - isn't so visible right now.

''I think we have a lot of guys that are not extra-emotional people. I think that shows,'' White said after scoring a season-low two points against St. John's. ''For me, I had that same body language tonight that I had on our team's best game. I think we have a lot of guys who are at (that) temperament. I think that speaks to the personalities of this team.''

Also missing is any sort of significant contribution from senior forward Tyler Roberson. Last season, Syracuse was 10-2 when Roberson grabbed 10 or more rebounds, and in the Orange's surprising run to the Final Four after a lackluster regular season he averaged 8.6 points and 11.2 rebounds. Against St. John's, he played seven minutes, missed all three shots he attempted, and had one offensive rebound.

Cornell visits on Tuesday, then it's the gauntlet of the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule - a chance to regroup or watch all those preseason hopes vanish for good.

''Up is the only way we can go from now,'' Howard said. ''I don't think you get any worse than this. I feel like we have this conversation a lot, about what we have to do.

''We are going to figure it out. That's all I can say.''

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Follow Kekis on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947

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