SYRACUSE — Elijah Hughes flashed the maturation of his game as the primary offensive option, and the Syracuse University men’s basketball team connected from deep to hold off Carleton and cap off its preseason Tuesday night.
Hughes delivered team highs of 15 points, 10 rebounds and three steals to go with four assists to guide the Orange to a 77-58 victory over the Ravens of the Ontario University Athletics Conference in front of 4,778 fans at the Carrier Dome.
Hughes, the only full-time starter back from last season, also led SU in scoring with 24 points and five 3-pointers during a 90-71 win over Division II Daemen College in SU’s exhibition opener Saturday.
The Orange, which finished 20-14 overall last season and suffered a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament, will begin Jim Boeheim’s 44th season as head coach by hosting defending national champion No. 9/11 Virginia in an Atlantic Coast Conference clash slated for 9 p.m. next Wednesday in the Dome.
“That’s really been my main focus this summer is just making plays now and being a basketball player, not just a 3-point shooter, but being that guy,” Hughes said.
Freshman Joe Girard III scored 14 points in 17 minutes off the bench, including a 3-for-4 mark from behind the arc, and Buddy Boeheim added 12 points on three 3-pointers.
Girard III, a Glens Falls product who scored 4,763 career points in high school for the most in state history, provided a spark with five minutes left in the first half and the game tied at 26 points apiece.
With the shot clock winding down, Girard III pulled up and knocked down a 3-pointer while getting fouled. He completed the four-point play to give SU a 30-26 edge, and after the Ravens responded with a 3-pointer of their own, Girard III buried another shot from deep on the next possession.
“Everything I’ve always done, no matter what it is, I’m always trying to compete and I think that’s my biggest asset,” said Girard III, who scored eight points in 14 minutes the previous exhibition. “The mindset for me is to always go out and compete, always go out and try to win, and when you compete and have your mind set on winning the game, that’s usually when good things happen.”
SU made 10 of 25 attempts from behind the 3-point arc after making 15 of 33 in its first exhibition, finishing with a .480 percentage during its two-game exhibition slate. SU averaged just 7.7 made shots from deep last season on a .330 percentage.
“We got a little hurried up a little bit and took too many threes early, fortunately (Girard) and Buddy hit a couple tough shots that kind of got us back in it,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said. “We played better offense in the second half, we moved it better and got a little bit better opportunities.”
The SU rotation became more clear after all 12 scholarship players saw extended minutes in the preseason opener. The Orange utilized the same starting five as its previous game — Hughes, Buddy Boeheim, sophomore point guard Jalen Carey, freshman forward Quincy Guerrier, and center Bourama Sidibe.
Marek Dolezaj delivered five assists and a pair of steals in 25 minutes off the bench, while freshmen guards Girard III and Brycen Goodine, who added eight points in 21 minutes, also appear to have locked in reserve roles.
The Ravens — who beat NCAA Division I Southern Florida and Albany in a pair of August exhibition games — led for eight minutes of the first half and by as much as eight points early in the game before SU took over.
“We know what it’s like to be down or have to go through some adversity,” Buddy Boeheim said. “In Italy (last summer) we had a couple tough games and started out losing, and I think those experiences helped us grow as a team and I think once the season starts you’ll see that, and I think the freshmen will really grow up and start to be ready for ACC play.”