SYRACUSE — Elijah Hughes roared back from a brief injury scare midway through the first half to reinvigorate the Syracuse University men’s basketball team and help the Orange cruise to its first Atlantic Coast Conference victory on its home court this season.
Hughes finished with 19 points, five assists and four rebounds after returning from a hard fall at the end of a drive to the basket, Buddy Boeheim scored a game-high 22 points, and SU dominated with its 2-3 zone defense to secure a 76-50 victory over Boston College in front of 21,645 fans Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome.
Syracuse (10-7 overall, 3-3 ACC) will be seeking its third straight conference victory at noon Saturday when it plays at Virginia Tech (13-4, 4-2). The Hokies beat the Orange, 67-63, in their first matchup on Jan. 7 in the Dome.
“Just having a guy like that on the court draws so much attention for us, he’s always going to make plays no matter what and he’s a guy you can always count on,” Buddy Boeheim said of Hughes. “He’s just a special player, so at first I was a little concerned hoping he would be all right, but he’s a tough player and he got back on the court for us and was able to make plays.”
Hughes drove aggressively to the basket and collided with a defender while he was in mid-air before hitting the deck hard and landing awkwardly on his side about seven minutes into the game. Hughes stayed on the court and rolled around in obvious pain, eventually walking off after being tended to by the SU medical staff.
He continued to be examined while on the bench but returned to the game with eight minutes left in the first half to ignite a decisive scoring run. The Orange unloaded upon Hughes’ reappearance and outscored the Eagles, 27-6, over the final eight minutes of the half to open up a 38-13 advantage at halftime. SU led by 20 points or more for the duration of the second half.
Hughes finished 7-for-14 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the foul line after being held scoreless prior to his short absence in the first half. The star junior, who leads SU and ranks second in the ACC with a scoring average of 19.5 points per game, said he landed on his ribs and had trouble catching his breath after the fall.
“I landed right on my rib-cage so it was really painful, it was hard to breathe, and it will probably bruise up a little bit,” Hughes said. “As a leader I have to pick guys up and get guys in the right spirits vocally, and I just had to go back out there and produce and make plays, rebound, defend, get out in transition.”
Buddy Boeheim delivered his most complete scoring performance of the season, including a 7-0 solo run during SU’s key first-half surge, and scored 10 of his 22 points off the dribble driving to the basket. He finished 9-for-17 overall and made 4-of-7 from deep to maintain his ACC lead in total 3-pointers made. Boeheim scored 15 of his 22 in the first half to help SU build a comfortable advantage at the break.
The Orange defense stymied the Eagles to shooting just 32.8 percent from the field, finishing 20-for-61 overall, and a 5-for-27 performance for a mark of 18.5 percent in the first half.
Boston College (9-8, 3-3) missed its first 18 attempts from deep, breaking through with 14 minutes left when Julian Rishwain connected to cut the SU edge to 52-25 with 13 minutes left. Leading scorer Derryck Thornton returned from a two-game injury absence but scored just four points on 2-for-7 shooting, and the Eagles didn’t have any player reach double figures in scoring.
“We’ve done some things differently in our defense that have helped us a little bit, so it is a little bit better but we’ve still got a ways to go,” said SU head coach Jim Boeheim, who is in his 44th season at the helm.
Marek Dolezaj added 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds to go with three assists and a pair of blocks for SU, while freshman point guard Joe Girard III added an efficient 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
Freshman guard Brycen Goodine scored five points in a short spurt off the bench, making his first appearance with a custom protective mask after breaking his nose in practice several weeks ago.