SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said before Friday night’s game that he wanted his son to play well but for his team to get the win.
He certainly got his wish.
With his dad coaching from the opposing sidelines, Cornell freshman forward Jimmy Boeheim totaled 11 points and five rebounds. His first possession 3-pointer gave Cornell men’s basketball an early lead but Syracuse pulled away fast, issuing the Red a 77-45 loss on college basketball’s opening night.
“You hope your son does well, but you don’t really focus on that and just focus on the game,” the elder Boeheim said after the game. “I did think he did a good job of getting a foot forward — it’s hard to do that against our defense.”
The vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone visibly bothered Cornell throughout the night, forcing contested shots and numerous turnovers. Cornell finished the game shooting 25 percent from the field and coughed up the ball 15 times.
“You just can’t prepare for [the zone],” said Cornell head coach Brian Earl. “You can give them an idea of how long, how athletic, how fast they close out on passes that might be open, but you just can’t prepare for it.”
While the offense struggled to penetrate the zone, the Red did keep Syracuse’s offensive threats in check in the first half. Defense has been one of Earl’s focuses in his second year as head coach, especially since last season, the Red ranked No. 7 in the league in scoring defense and allowed opponents to connect on 46 percent of their shots.
On Friday, Cornell held Syracuse to just 33 points on 31 percent shooting in the first half, allowing the Red to head into the locker room down 11 points — well within striking range.
That wouldn’t last for long.
From the opening whistle of the second half, Syracuse began flexing its muscles. The Orange orchestrated a 16-4 run to open the second frame to build a 49-26 lead. And as Syracuse locked in and knocked down shots, Cornell began to panic, launching up multiple 3-pointers seconds into the shot clock instead of its more careful and calculated approach in the first half.
“You just can’t replicate playing against Syracuse,” Earl said. “In general I think we had trouble adjusting to the magnitude of the opponent and in particular the way they guard.”
Aside from Boeheim, junior Matt Morgan provided the only other consistent stream of scoring throughout the night. The guard totaled 14 points on 33 percent shooting to go with two assists and three rebounds.
“He’s been in big games and it’s nothing new to him,” Earl said. “He didn’t have the wide-eyed glare that most of our team had. He’s capable of making plays and performing at that level.”
While Morgan has played in other big games, several of the Red’s players were making their debuts and had to do so in the Carrier Dome against a talented, well-coached team.
“It’s a jarring experience,” Earl said of new guys getting their first taste of college basketball against Syracuse. “Jimmy made a couple of shots, but I think in general, we had a problem just adjusting to this magnitude of opponent.”
After earning the surprise nod to start, Boeheim showed poise playing in his first ever game at the collegiate level. Prior to the game, the forward was expected to be a sixth man off the bench.
“I was in the first unit in the last few days of practice, but I didn’t know I was starting until [Coach Earl] told me today,” said Boeheim, who was greeted with cheers when announced as a starter. “The first few minutes I was a little nervous, but after the first possession, it felt like any other game.”
While it is just any other game, Earl is quick to point out how unique Syracuse is amongst its other opponents. In terms of arena, style of play and size of players, the Orange is an outlier on the Red’s 2017-18 schedule.
“Frankly we’re not going to be playing another team these like this again, so we’ll try to move past it,” Earl said. “We play Binghamton next and they play a more traditional man-to-man.”
Despite the loss, some praise from the second winningest coach in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history should go a long way in helping move past the loss.
“I think Cornell is good, I think they’re going to be better than last year,” the elder Boeheim said. “They had trouble with our defense, but their man-to-man offense is very good and difficult to play against.”
Cornell makes its home debut against Binghamton this coming Monday, Nov. 13.