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Heyen: Syracuse, despite flashes, didn’t reach its full potential

first_imgSALT LAKE CITY — At Syracuse’s Media Day in mid-October, SU head coach Jim Boeheim thought the Orange were ahead of where they’d been at the same point a season ago. All five starters returned from a Sweet 16 team. Elijah Hughes was eligible, and the freshman class showed promise.Thursday, though, SU’s season ended in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round. Syracuse had gone from ahead of the curve to falling short of the heights it had reached last year.“I think you are always disappointed when you lose in a tournament, if you think you had a chance to win,” Boeheim said. “We obviously had a chance to win the game tonight.”In the NCAA Tournament, seasons can end at the hand of one hot shooting night, much as SU’s did on Thursday. But the final loss alone isn’t what makes Syracuse’s season such a disappointment. The Orange had more talent than last year, but they ended two games and three wins short. They proved they could play with anyone in the country, but they never harnessed that enough. Syracuse didn’t reach its full potential.“We didn’t have the consistency from the beginning,” Boeheim said.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textMore coverage:Tyus Battle ‘isn’t worrying about’ his future right nowSyracuse’s season ends in 78-69 NCAA Tournament defeat to BaylorHot shooting, Elijah Hughes and more takeaways from Syracuse’s season-ending loss Comments Published on March 22, 2019 at 2:19 am Facebook Twitter Google+ All the pieces were in place: A senior point guard in Frank Howard. Potential pros Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett. A 7-foot-2 center in the middle of the 2-3 zone. Sharp-shooters Hughes and Buddy Boeheim. A do-everything 6-foot-10 Marek Dolezaj.But when SU went to Madison Square Garden in November with a chance at two early-season statement wins, it left with none. Howard was still out with injury, and Connecticut and a then-ranked Oregon handled the Orange. A win two weeks later at then-No. 16 Ohio State with Howard back in the fold seemed to show everything was OK.It wasn’t. Old Dominion and Buffalo beat Syracuse twice in four days, both in the Carrier Dome. That put the Orange at a four nonconference loss mark that had never led to an NCAA Tournament-berth before. A loss to Georgia Tech in the Dome on Jan. 12 made the outlook even drearier.“A lot of times people counted us out certain games,” Hughes said on Thursday. “We knew we had a chance, and we went out and competed.”Then, Syracuse provided again a glimpse at the upside: 95 points at then-No. 1 Duke. Overcoming an early 14-2 deficit to beat the Blue Devils even as Zion Williamson dominated not only changed SU’s postseason resume but appeared to show that the Orange could beat anyone. But though Syracuse could knock off the best, it never did again with consistency.Buddy came into his own in ACC play, and Howard finally found his legs. Wins pretty much only came against expectedly worse foes, though, aside from a win over Louisville on a historically bad shooting night for the Cardinals.“We played pretty consistently in the league,” Boeheim said. “We beat the teams we were supposed to.”Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerSU led Duke, North Carolina and Virginia at halftime all in the span of two weeks. Bad teams don’t lead three soon-to-be No. 1-seeds at the half often. But a team with Syracuse’s potential shouldn’t have blown all three. Buddy said the Orange had “great moments” in those games, but they were too infrequent.Brissett emphasized that the NCAA Tournament, a “new season” with everyone starting with the same record, gave the Orange a stage to show what they could really do. But all Syracuse revealed was that its most consistent identity was inconsistency. Inconsistent by no means equals bad. The highest of highs were glorious. No one else beat a healthy Williamson in Cameron this season, and an eventual NCAA Tournament team in UofL had its worst loss of its season against SU.There was never just one answer, though, for why that didn’t show up more often. Sometimes it was the centers or an inability to rebound. Other times, the Orange couldn’t overcome a slow night from Battle, or they failed to defend the 3-point shot. SU searched for an identity all season. Hughes speculated that it was “heart” in February. That wasn’t enough, though, and Syracuse’s warts too frequently showed larger than its skills.Giving his final postgame press conference of his 43rd season at the helm of SU, Boeheim called the year “solid.” Sure, the Orange overcame a nonconference loss total to get into March Madness that they never had before. But no one suits up to lose in the round of 64.“It just wasn’t the year I think we would have liked to have had,” Boeheim said.It wasn’t the year Syracuse had the potential to have, either.Billy Heyen is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at wmheyen@syr.edu or @Wheyen3.last_img read more