No. 14 Syracuse stumbles without Boeheim, falls to second straight loss
A white piece of tape ran down the back of a black folding chair on the Syracuse sideline Saturday, with the words "COACH" and "BOEHEIM" written in black ink. That seat remained empty throughout the game.
And instead of the suspended Hall of Fame coach yelling at his players or pleading with officials, assistant Mike Hopkins was in charge of the Orange for the first time.
With Jim Boeheim beginning his nine-game NCAA ban, and Hopkins filling in, No. 14 Syracuse lost 79-72 to old rival Georgetown, thanks in large part to senior center Bradley Hayes' career-high 21 points.
"He's always with us, at the end of the day. He built us. Built the program," Hopkins said about his boss, then paused, eyes red and welling with tears. "I wanted this one for him tonight."
Michael Gbinije scored 23 points for Syracuse (6-2), which has dropped two straight games, including being beaten at home by Wisconsin on Wednesday. The Orange trailed by as many as 21 points against Georgetown (4-3) in the schools' first meeting since Syracuse left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference after the 2012-13 season -- and Boeheim, as associated with his team as any coach in college basketball, was nowhere to be found.
The game was played two days after the NCAA Infractions Appeals Committee upheld the suspension of Boeheim but decided he would begin serving it immediately -- during non-conference action. A March ruling said the suspension should be served during ACC play.
The 71-year-old Boeheim will miss six non-conference games and three ACC games, returning to coach the Orange against North Carolina on Jan. 9. He cannot be around his team during the suspension.
"Imagine, all of a sudden, someone came and said that you can't talk to your father for a month. And they lived down the street. ... That's tough," said Hopkins, who played for Boeheim, has been his assistant coach for 20 years, and in June was designated as his successor.
"But we'll get through it. We've been through a lot. Coach Boeheim is one of the greatest people when dealing with adversity. As a coach, coaching my first game, not the ideal situation," Hopkins continued. "I would love to be able to call him and ask him what he thought, as a mentor."
Georgetown coach John Thompson III said about Hopkins: "He's prepared. He knows what to do."
Other than Hopkins' role, not much looked different about Syracuse. There was the familiar 2-3 zone, for example, except when some full-court pressure helped trim the deficit as low as six points in the final minute.
"We're not looking to change anything," Gbinije said. "We're just going to keep doing what we were doing before Coach Hop was basically the head coach. We still run the same sets. Same defense. Same players."
Isaac Copeland scored 14 points, and freshman Marcus Derrickson added 13 points and 10 rebounds for Georgetown. The Hoyas led 36-24 at halftime, and Hayes capped an 11-2 run that made it 47-26 with a three-point play, successfully putting in a follow-up off an offensive rebound on his third try.
"Just dug ourselves too big of a hole," Hopkins said.
Syracuse G Trevor Cooney was held to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
In addition to facing Syracuse again, the Hoyas' loss to Maryland on Nov. 17 was those nearby schools' first regular-season meeting since 1993. "We all understand how much history Georgetown and Syracuse has," Hayes said. Noted Cooney: "Felt like a Big East game to me."
Hayes never had scored more than eight points until this season. He had 19 in an opening loss to Radford, then topped that Saturday. "He will have a lot more moments like today," Thompson said, "before this year is over."
Syracuse: The Orange have lost five of their past seven games against Georgetown.
Georgetown: After starting 0-2 for the first time since 1998, the Hoyas have won four of their last five games, with the only loss to defending national champion Duke.
Syracuse hosts Colgate on Tuesday.
Georgetown hosts Brown on Monday.