Syracuse’s reliance on Elijah Hughes evident in loss to Virginia Tech

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 8, 2020 at 1:49 am Contact Michael: mmcclear@syr.edu | @MikeJMcCleary The ball came to Elijah Hughes, as it so often does, and the 6-foot-6 forward danced through contact on the perimeter, like a pinball taking its last few bounces before it falls out of play. It was late in the second half. Wabissa Bede dug into his torso and Hughes found a lane: The one that was open all game. This time, Hughes turned his back to the basket, muscled in and scored at the rim.Such a play is common for Hughes. He cut the Orange’s deficit to five points. But he needed a second try on this one. A turnover gave SU a chance to cut it further. Hughes got the ball again, dribbled up to the free-throw line and stepped back.“Coaches wanted me to make a play,” Hughes said. “Whether I was scoring, at the line, or getting someone a shot. So that was pretty much that.”Nearly doubling his first-half shot attempts in the second half of the game, Hughes and the Orange executed the game plan exactly how they wanted to. Syracuse (8-7, 1-3 Atlantic Coast), in a 67-63 loss to Virginia Tech (11-4, 2-2), looked to its star player late in the game as the game appeared to be falling out of reach. But sometimes even Hughes’ shots fell off the rim. In a rare inconsistent performance from Hughes, SU’s offensive futility was too much for him to overcome.“He finished well,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “He wasn’t good in the middle… or the beginning. He struggled there. But at the end, he finished well.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSo far this season for the Orange, Hughes has been a steadying presence despite the heavy load put upon him as the best player on a team littered with young players. But in recent games, Hughes has been lost within some of the Orange’s offensive inefficiencies.Hughes’ offensive outbursts undoubtedly coincide with some of SU’s best offensive stretches. Against Notre Dame, the Orange had a few timely makes yet no serious rhythm in the early part of the first half, and Hughes was held scoreless. But a nine-point burst awakened Syracuse and provided a game-changing run.Tuesday, Hughes attacked early and pulled up for a jumper to give the Orange their first two points of the game. Hughes looked alive after he bounced back and nailed a fadeaway 3-pointer early in the first half, and the Orange did too. An early lead ballooned to nine. Guarded mostly by Bede – whom he played against in high school – Hughes missed his final two shots of the half, yet the Orange still led.But the score flipped in the second half, and the Orange looked to Hughes to make a play. The ball was in his hands nearly every play. He tried what he could: On drives, on jumpers, on post-ups. Yet the Orange as a whole had gone cold. He started the second half 0-3 from the field and added a turnover. He didn’t get a bucket until the 12:11 mark of the second half.“They’re putting a lot of pressure on us,” Quincy Guerrier said.The frustration built, questionable foul calls occurred and Hughes’ energy gradually soured. Down by six points, Hughes rose up and drained a 3-point shot and the Orange jumped into a full-court press. SU trapped Bede at the midcourt line and Hughes closed in. Bede swung his arms and Hughes flew back. The play, followed by no call, proved costly. It opened up a lane for Bede, who swung the ball around, and Landers Nolley II found an open P.J. Horne in the corner.Hughes had been animated all game: He’d shaken his head at the free-throw line, argued calls, but this time he was more direct. He pointed out the far referee and shouted.“You know, I just thought (the officials) were bad,” Hughes said. “That’s my opinion. It’s not easy being a ref, obviously. But I just thought some of the calls were just… bad.”By then, the game was over. A few futile attempts by the Orange provided a glimmer of home, but as usual it was not enough. When the buzzer sounded, Hughes walked off the floor, slowed to a stop and shouted. He cocked his head up, and then quickly recalibrated. The struggles Tuesday are nothing new. And Hughes’ burden wasn’t either.He dipped his head, forcefully high-fived a team staff member and slugged to the locker room. Tonight, it wasn’t enough. It’s another loss behind him. Another game the Orange almost had. Another game to prepare for, when the ball will come back to Hughes again. Commentslast_img read more