Orange Fall to Ohio State

At 11:40 p.m. on the eve of Thanksgiving, Syracuse fans everywhere were thankful for one thing: the debacle at Madison Square Garden mercifully ended. The 79-65 loss to a smart, solid Ohio State team wasn't exactly a blowout, but it certainly felt like it.

Kosta Koufos exploited the porous Syracuse defense and the Orange failed to realize that it pays to play defense and take shots from less than 23 feet, and Jim Boeheim's club dropped a game for the first time in the year to fall to 3-1.

Early on things looked solid for Syracuse, as Donte Greene hit a pair of triples, including a bank shot from NBA range, and the Orange got out to an early 20-13 lead capped off by layup from Greene, who scored 12 of his 21 points in the first nine minutes.

However, Ohio State scored eight straight to take a 21-20 lead just over two minutes later on the strength of three Othello Hunter buckets, a Koufos jumper, and a pair of free throws by John Diebler, and from that point the Buckeyes were in firm control in what the talking heads deemed a home game for Syracuse.

Ohio State surged to a 31-24 lead after Koufos scored six straight, and the seven point lead was maintained through most of the rest of the first half until a Diebler free throw pushed it to an eight point advantage for the Buckeyes as the went into the half up 42-34.

In the first nine minutes as Syracuse built its seven point lead, the ball movement was crisp and the shots were falling for the Orange, who committed only three turnovers in that span. Something happened to change things, though. First, the Orange started getting sloppy with the ball, with the number of turnovers increasing dramatically over the last 11 minutes before the break. To compound things, the defense started to lapse dramatically, rebounding became an issue, and the shots stopped falling.

Time after time, the poor rotation on the perimeter left players like Koufos, Diebler and Jamar Butler wide open for uncontested jumpers, and when the Syracuse defenders finally closed out, the remaining players in orange left the foul line area open and also allowed too many easy passes inside for point range buckets.

When the shots went up, bodies weren't thrown into Ohio State players, leading to a number of offensive rebounding opportunities, particularly on the weak side. After going off for 12 early points, Donte Greene simply disappeared on both ends of the court. His offense went away, and his defense and weakside rebounding were absolutely non-existent as the half wore on. To make matters worse, Jonny Flynn simply could not get his game going.

Eric Devendorf got things rolling early in the second half with five quick points on a triple and an acrobatic drive, and after quick baskets by Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris it was suddenly a 46-43 game with 16:11 to play, and the Buckeyes were forced to take a timeout.

With the momentum squarely on their side, the Orange failed to close the gap. After using superior ball movement and attacking the rim to spark their 9-2 run to get back within three, the Syracuse players completely abandoned what had been working in favor of jacking up more attempts from deep. The results were not pretty. On the other end of the court, Koufos got free for a pair of dunks, Hunter hit a jumper, and Butler connected from deep as the Buckeyes ran out to a 56-44 lead, the first double digit deficit for either team in the game.

Onuaku and Scoop Jardine answered with consecutive baskets to make it a 56-48 game with 11:32 to play, but over the next three minutes the Buckeyes got three pointers from Matt Terwilliger, Diebler, and Butler, as well as a layup by Koufos to extend it to a 67-52 advantage.

Syracuse managed to chip away and get it back down to a 76-65 game with 3:19 remaining, but once again the Orange chose to continue chucking it up from deep despite their horrendous shooting performance, allowing Ohio State to hang on as the shots simply would not fall.

In the end, the smarter team won. Ohio State used terrific ball movement and good activity both on the glass and on defense, while Syracuse too often forced threes early in the shot clock and got away from the one aspect of their offense that had any bit of success, that being interior passing and driving the ball into the lane.

To say that the defense for Syracuse was bad is being kind. In truth, tonight's performance on the defensive end of the court was one of the worst in recent memory. The Syracuse players, notably Devendorf and Greene, displayed a matador style of play, the Buckeyes used the pick and roll with tremendous success, and the Orange displayed such poor rotation and recognition of where players were that they really had no business being in the game for as long as they were.

Signs of the defensive struggles appeared early in the game, as David Lighty was left wide open in the corner on consecutive trips and made the Orange pay with a triple on his first touch. The middle of the lane was left wide open on the next possession, in which Koufos sank a completely uncontested 15 footer.

The Orange were able to withstand the bad defense in the early going based largely on sharp offense, keyed by the passing of Harris and Devendorf. While Devendorf was T'ed up in the first half, he still played one of the smartest halves of his career, getting back on defense to take a charge from Lighty when his teammates were nowhere to be found, making several beautiful passes after drawing defenders on drives, and scoring on his patented acrobatic scoop shots in the lane.

After the good start to the second half, the Orange fell apart when they fell too in love with the three. To make matters worse, no one on the team seemed able to differentiate between the college and NBA lines, as the majority of Orange attempts came from well beyond 19'9".

Any time the Orange began to get back into the game and show signs of life, any momentum they displayed was immediately squashed by poor defense or a forced three point attempt. On the Diebler triple that pushed it into double figures, for instance, Jardine simply left the all-time leading scorer (who once scored 77 points in a game, we were so often reminded tonight) completely alone on the wing, and Diebler naturally drained the wide open trey.

After falling behind 65-54, Koufos scored an easy basket on one of the many pick and rolls that the Orange just could not seem to, A) recognize, and B) defend, pushing it to a 67-54 game.

It seemed that any time Syracuse would start to gain momentum they would jack an early three, clank it, and proceed to give up easy points on the other end. Not exactly the recipe for a comeback. In fact, once the game got under five minutes, there was the distinct feeling in watching the game that it really felt like about 15 seconds were left, judging by the way the Orange tried (or didn't try) to play defense and the Buckeyes seemed so confident in killing clock.

The prime culprit in forcing shots in this one was Jonny Flynn, who had what was easily the worst game of his young career. He bricked all six of his shot attempts, five of which came from about 24 feet, and turned the ball over far too rapidly and unnecessarily.

Greene, while the key to getting the early lead, was also guilty of forcing up jumpers, including a brick that drew only glass late in the game and a quick airball off an inbounds pass with under a minute remaining. Greene finished with 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting (3-of-9 from deep) and added 10 boards, but those numbers fail to reflect just how poor of an outing it was for the freshman.

Devendorf, on the other hand, shot only 6-of-17 (2-of-9 from three) to finish with 15 points, but was absolutely the bright spot on the offensive end of the court. Any time the Orange started to get something going, the junior from Bay City was right in the middle of the run, either with his deft passing or finishing around the rim.

Harris put up another double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, and Onuaku added 13 and five.

It was an ugly game aside from about 12 minutes, eight of which came in the first half and four in the second. The Orange shot a dismal 36.8% from the field, a percentage brought down significantly by their horrific 5-of-25 shooting from deep.

Koufos, on the other hand, enjoyed a Big Fat Greek Explosion with a career high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting and added nine boards, including four on the offensive glass. Butler drilled 4-of-6 from deep en route to 16 points, Hunter proved to be a nightmare for the 'Cuse with 15 points and eight boards, and Diebler finished with 10 points to round out the double-digit scorers for the Buckeyes.

This Orange team clearly has a lot of potential, and it's put on full display whenever the team chooses to move the ball in the half court and take smart shots, rather than forcing up threes and trying to create offense when it's just not there. During both of today's NIT games, Steve Lavin kept saying that the key to high intensity and fast paced games is being quick but patient. Tonight, the Buckeyes proved just how true that is, using incredible patience and ball movement to exploit the terrible Syracuse defense, while the Orange tried to be quick, but displayed little to no patience for the vast majority of the night.

When the team plays with patience, moves the ball, and attacks the paint, it's a fun team to watch. When the team decides to jack up threes early in the possession, the offense becomes stagnant, and it becomes a hideous team to watch. Hopefully, the hideous team will stay away when the Orange take on Washington on Friday afternoon.

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