You'd have to look hard to find flaws in a team that has outscored its opponents by an average of 31 points per game, but Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim eventually found something he could use to motivate his team following a 71-50 blowout of Monmouth on Friday.
Boeheim, now in his 41st year at Syracuse, said the 17th-ranked Orange need to do a better job of protecting the ball when it faces South Carolina State in a Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational game at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse committed 16 turnovers against Monmouth Friday, including 10 in the second half, after turning the ball over a combined 20 times in its first two games against Colgate and Holy Cross.
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“We can't have our point guards just giving the ball up like that,” Boeheim said. “They didn't score any points in the second half except off turnovers.”
Actually, the Hawks scored only eight of their 21 second-half points off turnovers. But it's true that Orange point guards Frank Howard and John Gillon, who combined for 27 assists and five turnovers in the first two games, were both a little shaky against Monmouth with a combined seven assists and four turnovers.
“I'm not worried about John. He's a good player and he went against a good kid (Friday) that's really good (Monmouth point guard Justin Robinson),” Boeheim said. “He made a couple of mistakes, Frank made a couple of mistakes. That's why we play these games, to try to learn from those mistakes.”
The Orange will play another one of “these games” Tuesday against a South Carolina State team that fell to 1-2 Friday after a 92-50 loss to South Carolina. The Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational is a five-team, round-robin tournament that includes Syracuse, South Carolina, South Carolina State, Monmouth and Holy Cross.
Last season, the Bulldogs enjoyed their best season since 2005 as they finished 19-15 overall and 12-4 in the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference and advanced to the title game of the MEAC Tournament. The league's coaches and athletic directors picked S.C. State to finish second in the MEAC this year behind Howard — the first time since 2003 the Bulldogs have been picked as high as second in the preseason.
But with six new players, the Bulldogs are still finding their way as they were thumped by a strong Wichita State team 85-39 and defeated NAIA member St. Andrews University 93-76 before losing to South Carolina. The Bulldogs shot only 30.8 percent (16-for-52) and were outrebounded 47-24 against the Gamecocks, and they'll have to do far better than that if they want to stay in the game against Syracuse.
“It was a tough loss for our team tonight against a very talented and well-coached South Carolina team, but we have to learn from this and keep moving forward,” said Bulldogs coach Murray Gavin, the 2015-16 MEAC Coach of the Year. “They had 28 second-chance points to our four and that was the deciding factor down the stretch.”
The Bulldogs are led by All-MEAC Preseason first-team selection Eric “EJ” Eaves, who averaged 17.3 points per game last season and is scoring at a 15.3-point clip this year. Fifth-year transfer guard Andrew White is leading the Orange in scoring at 18 points per game and he's shooting 38.5 percent (10 of 26) from 3-point range.