Joe Rahon faded away in the lane after putting up an awkward jumper that missed the rim. As Eddie Odio grappled with Baye Moussa Keita, Ryan Anderson lurked on the left side of the paint’s block. He was waiting for the ball to drop into his open hands. After a frustrating first half, the junior was starting to get hot in the paint. He had unlocked Syracuse’s defensive shape and was about to change the game.
Leading by three points, the Eagles knew they would have to build their lead without haste to have a chance to knock off the Orange-and that is exactly what Anderson did.
As a monstrous trio of C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, and Keita converged on him under the hoop, Anderson fought his way to the rack, which he had done all night. His lay-up passed through the net, and once the whistle blew, he lost it. He squatted in front of the baseline to let out an intimidating roar. It was a release of emotion.
Anderson drained his shot from the line. The junior was in business, and the Eagles were 16:31 away from pulling off the biggest upset of the Steve Donahue era.
Conte Forum was an electrifying environment again.
When the Eagles took the court on Monday evening, the visitors were primed. Syracuse, No. 2 in the country, was ready to advance to 17-0. Despite BC leading by as much as eight after a dunk from Anderson with just under 16 minutes left in the game, Syracuse mustered an 18-3 run which spanned from 11:57 to 4:43 in the second half. The spurt distanced the Orange from the Eagles, giving the visitors a dramatic 69-59 victory.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s famous 2-3 zone defense thwarted any chance the Eagles had of working the ball inside early in the game. Anderson was used to penetrate the high post, the most vulnerable piece of the Orange’s defense, but BC’s guards could not find the junior.
Steve Donahue spent time going over the complex zone with his team in the days leading up to the game.
“It was just about repetition, repetition, repetition,” Anderson said on Wednesday. “We put a big lineup against our starters and just trying to rep getting the ball to the middle, then getting it out.”
When the Eagles pushed down the floor, they faced Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis. The pair of guards stood ahead of Fair on the wing to BC’s left, with Grant on the right, and Rakeem Christmas playing the role of anchor under the hoop.
The zone limited BC to shots from the perimeter, but Donahue’s offense is equipped for exactly that.
“The first half, our concentration was just trying to direct feed it into me, and in the second half, we started to use more screening action to get the guards into the middle to kick it out to the guards for shots,” Anderson said. “I thought the screening was a little bit more effective just because of how big they are. It’s hard to just straight pass it in there.”
The high screens helped Olivier Hanlan, who finished with six helpers, which started when he assisted Lonnie Jackson, who shot six of nine from behind the arc, for the junior’s first triple of the evening after the Orange collapsed on the sophomore in the lane.
Christmas, Fair, and Grant mobbed Anderson under the rim throughout the first half, severely stalling BC’s inside game. The junior forward overcame the trio’s size using his skills in the lane.
“It’s all about footwork and things like that,” Anderson said. “If a certain guy has an advantage over you, maybe physically, you just have to try and beat them mentally. I was just trying to use a lot of head fakes, pivoting, and stuff like that to just get clean looks.”
Those “clean looks” were key, as outside shots kept the Eagles in the game. In both halves, the team nailed 50 percent of its shots, which was key to beating the zone.
“There’s a couple things that you have to do and one of them [is]: you’ve got to keep adjusting,” Donahue said of Boeheim’s defense. “The best thing that they do is they adjust.”
Once the Eagles’ 3-point shooting picked up, Syracuse quickly took those opportunities away, forcing BC to move the ball from east to west.
Tyler Ennis and Cooney quickly shut down BC’s passing lanes and spurred the Orange’s counter. Cooney went to the rack on consecutive breaks, one of which came from a steal of his own and the other after a steal came from Ennis. A theft by Cooney moments later turned into a dunk to cap off the visitors’ run, which gave them a nine-point, 32-23, lead.
While Boeheim’s zone was working, the performance of Jackson, who finished with 18 points, was hard to stop.
“I’m just starting to find a rhythm,” Jackson said. “He [Donahue] has confidence in me, and I have confidence in myself that I can knock down that shot.”
After Jackson started the half with a three, BC began to work the ball inside. It was just another one of the many changes the Eagles would have to make.
“Halftime we said a couple things,” Donahue said. “We’ve really got to attack it [the zone] off the dribble. Now it’s hard and we did it. We did it well. But they made the adjustment.”
After the break, Anderson began to find his place. Throughout the first half, he battled with Christmas in the paint, fighting for position. When he got the ball in the high post, he was trapped quickly.
“I have a second or two where it’s just a 1-on-1 matchup, so if I can attract two guys off being aggressive then I can open up a shot for someone else too,” Anderson said.
The junior forward was able to get to the line, putting Christmas into foul trouble. The Syracuse big man picked up his fourth foul just over 1:30 into the second half, rooting him to the bench for remainder of the night.
“If you pass it against guys that are that big, you’re not going to be successful, so we were just trying to attack them and he [Christmas] ended up fouling us a lot and we got to the free throw line,” Anderson said.
With Keita inside, Anderson began to hit from inside the paint and his 10 second-half points were tremendous in the team’s upset bid. When Anderson’s game in the lane picked up, the Eagles did well to beat another part of Boeheim’s defense.
“Part of it was we were trapping and we had good traps, and they made two great plays to get out the traps and not only get out of the traps, but get him [Jackson] the ball in cross-court pressured pass and he stuck it,” Boeheim said.
Even with his defense being tested by an in-form BC offense, Boeheim retained his confidence.
“I wasn’t as concerned as I would be because there was time-there was time left,” Boeheim said of what he was thinking when his team trailed by eight. “We knew they would take their time, but we just wanted to find-can’t remember his name-Lonnie Jackson. Yeah, I know his name. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t let him shoot. Let somebody else shoot the ball. And I thought we did that.”
Syracuse used its time well. Its massive second half run was capped by a highlight reel jam from an otherwise quiet Grant.
The dunk shook Conte Forum and sealed the game, but BC’s performance against the zone was enough to give the team a much-needed confidence boost.
“I think they have great hope in that locker room,” Donahue said.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor