Pokes Set to Face Long Syracuse Team in Brooklyn

Zach Lancaster

STILLWATER -- Mike Boynton and Co. have faced some difficult tasks in their first five games of the season, but they're fixing to face a different animal tonight in Brooklyn: a long Syracuse team that's perfected the zone defense.

“After 50 years you would think you kinda know all the things you could see attacking you. Coach (Jim) Boeheim’s been the only one calling the shots over there for a long time. There’s not going to be anything we can do from a schematic standpoint that he hasn’t seen at some point. Just being able to not only understand that their length is going to bother you, but they’re gonna adjust to how we attack them. Then it just kinda becomes a boxing match, who can make the best adjustments throughout the game.

“Then ultimately we’ll have to make some shots over it. There’s no question about it. We’re not going to kid ourselves and think we can shoot the ball as poorly as we have, certainly from 3 the last two games, and still expect to have success. But if we don’t, we’re certainly going to still try to find a way. We gotta be really good on the glass rebounding. We’ve gotta keep them out of transition. The key, I think, to beating a zone is trying to beat it before it gets set up. If we get stops and we can get out and run on transition, which is where we’re our best anyway, we think that will bode well for us to have the best chance to have success.”

Besides the zone, the Pokes will have to defend three starters averaging in the double-digits in points. Freshman point guard Joseph Girard is averaging 10.6 points and 3.6 assists per game, sophomore guard, and son of coach Boeheim, Buddy Boeheim is averaging 14.4 points per game, and is also shooting 39 percent from behind the 3-point line.

As for redshirt junior forward Elijah Hughes, he's averaging 17.2 points and 5.0 assists per game. Power forward and center Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj are also very formidable forces down low. Heights of 6-10 each, they're very long and dominate the glass.

Sidibe averages 7.2 points per game, and he hauls in 7.0 rebounds per game. As for Dolezaj, he's averaging 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

But it's their length in the zone defense that they play that's going to be an issue. Besides Girard being 6-1, they have two 6-6 players and two 6-10 players in the starting lineup.

“A lot," said coach Boynton on learning the zone. "It’s pretty much been all zone in practice the last couple days. Have another opportunity tomorrow, but we can’t simulate the length that they have throughout. We’re trying to give Avery (Anderson) an idea. He’s going to go in there and literally disappear. You guys are not going to see him on the TV screen when he gets into the paint. Just figuring that part out will be something that he can’t do until Wednesday night.”

Lindy Waters, Cameron McGriff and Thomas Dziagwa have all played in the Barclays Center before, two seasons ago when they faced Texas A&M and Pittsburgh in the Legends Classic.

They've also played, and won some mammoth games throughout their careers.

The young guys are also going to have to learn how to play in probably the biggest environment of their careers as it'll be a virtual home game for Syracuse as the game's being played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.

“A lot of it you can’t, to be honest," said coach Boynton on preparing the younger players for the Barclays Center. "They just have to learn on the fly, so to speak. I’m always interested to see how they respond. There are some guys you see rise and are ready for those type of moments. It will be a well-attended game, considering I think this is the only time that Syracuse is playing in New York City this year. Obviously having been in the Big East for so long, there’s a lot of Syracuse fans in New York City and obviously in Brooklyn as well. I’m excited to see how our players will respond to what essentially will be a road game outside of some parents going up and me having a little bit of family there. Most of the orange won’t be cheering for the Cowboys.”

Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and will be televised on ESPN2.

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