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Axe: Both Syracuse basketball teams having trouble out of the gate

Syracuse, N.Y. — Every sporting event has to start somehow.

Football has the kickoff. Hockey and lacrosse have the faceoff. Baseball has the first pitch.

NASCAR races begin when someone yells, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

A horse race starts when the gates fly open. In boxing, the ring announcer gets you “ready to rumble” with an over-the-top introduction.

In basketball, the tipoff starts the game. For some reason, that just hasn’t registered with either the Syracuse University men’s or women’s basketball team, as both have been struggling in the first half.

Are the clocks set correctly at the Carmelo K. Anthony Center?

Because this is getting weird.

The men’s team has trailed at halftime in five of its last seven games. Syracuse had a 4-3 record in that stretch but saw some wild extremes in it.

NC State scored 47 first-half points on Jan. 31 before SU rallied in the second half to win 76-73.

Notre Dame had a 46-32 lead on Syracuse on Saturday before the Orange press and a Buddy Boeheim 3-point barrage sunk the Irish.

Duke dropped 10 3-pointers on the Orange in the first half Monday night on the way to a 52-point first-half and an 85-71 win.

The common denominator for the Orange men’s first-half issues has been opposing teams challenging a weak Syracuse defense. Teams are feeding the ball inside early and often, then kicking it out for 3s when the 2-3 zone drops in.

“There’s no excuse,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said on Monday. “We’re just not coming out and getting the movement we need to get on defense.”

The women’s team has trailed at the break in five of its last six games. SU has gone 3-3 in that stretch.

“We gotta find a way to start better,” SU coach Quentin Hillsman said after SU’s 76-68 loss to Virginia Tech on Sunday. “We can’t keep digging ourselves this kind of hole and try to fight back every game.”

The Orange women trailed 44-22 at halftime against the Hokies. Sunday’s sluggish start was the fourth time in the last five games that the Orange scored fewer than 12 points in the first quarter.

The slow starts for Coach Q’s team are attached to turnovers, inconsistent 3-point shooting and trouble adjusting to life on the road in a pandemic. All six of Syracuse’s losses have come away from the Carrier Dome this season.

While seemingly every college basketball team has dealt with Covid-related pauses this season, the Syracuse women’s program has had nine games postponed or canceled this season, including a break that lasted 28 days during December and January. Syracuse has played as many as four games in eight days twice this season.

The usual routine of Thursday and Sunday games has been interrupted several times.

Both teams are collectively fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives at the moment.

The Orange men (13-7, 7-6) have to win out against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson and then hope to take a couple of games in the ACC Tournament just to get back on the bubble.

The Orange women (11-6, 8-6) are still projected to make the NCAA field as a No.8 seed, according to ESPN.

Both teams can help their postseason chances immensely by remembering to not hit the snooze button.

What can the Orange men and women do to get settled faster?

Borrow the starter’s pistol from track and field?

A splash of cold water in the face?

Red Bull in the water bottles?

Hire a motivational speaker? (I suggest Matt Foley).

Coaches will often say it’s not how you start a game, it’s how you finish.

For both Syracuse men’s and women’s basketball, how they start games will determine how they finish the season.

Contact Brent Axe: Email | Twitter


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