Defensive slumps have nearly sunk Syracuse in recent weeks

first_img Comments Published on March 19, 2019 at 12:16 am Contact Nick: nialvare@syr.edu | @nick_a_alvarez The shot clock wound down, and Adam Charalambides was desperate. The Rutgers attack was nearly parallel to Syracuse’s Drake Porter near the crease when he flung an underhanded shot. Porter barely flinched, watching the ball bounce past him and into netting as the buzzer sounded. From the sidelines, Orange head coach John Desko walked onto the turf with extended arms. Officials convened, and the goal was awarded. It was early in the first quarter of the March 16 contest and already, it seemed like Rutgers’ offense was clicking. When asked about Charalambides’ six-goal output, Desko leaned back and took a deep breath.“That’s a great question,” Desko said. “We were a little disappointed, we had guys marking him and he backdoored us a couple times.” The play was a first for Porter in his first season as a starter. The junior goalie’s played well, posting more than 13 saves per game — the top mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Defender Nick Mellen has been regarded as one of the best defenders in the country by experts and opponents. But even with stalwarts and the talented backline, the numbers haven’t equated. No. 12 Syracuse’s (4-2, 0-1 ACC) defense has allowed multiple scoring runs in recent weeks, leading to a loss to Virginia and almost costing games against Johns Hopkins and RU. Its defense is middle of the road in caused turnovers (24th), stopping man-down chances (28th) and scoring (29th). Through six games, Syracuse’s defense is just average.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThis Sunday, the Orange host No. 2 Duke — the highest-ranked opponent they’ve played this season with a top-15 offense — so the backline might need a stronger performance to match their thriving offense. The close contest with Rutgers wasn’t the first time Syracuse stumbled with an opponent’s early game plan. Two weeks prior, Virginia’s Michael Kraus exposed SU’s struggles with “big-little” matchups on March 3. It was the first time an offense utilized that strategy against Syracuse, Desko said, and it wasn’t prepared.Kraus paced the Cavaliers with six points, including a diving play where he charged the crease from behind-the-cage and flicked a shot past Porter for one of his three goals. SU adjusted its defense, assigned specific matchups but on the final goal of the game, Mikey Herring slipped free from a screen and scored the overtime winner. “Syracuse did a really nice job defending us one-on-one, and they didn’t want to slide,” UVA head coach Lars Tiffany said. “We wanted to continue to exploit that.”Susie Teuscher | Digital Design EditorThe Orange appeared to solve their defensive problems a week later against Johns Hopkins. When the ball swung behind Porter’s net, the goalie stepped behind and pressured the ball while two poles patrolled the crease. Yet the Blue Jays still leapt to an early 5-1 advantage. Their attack seized one-on-one matchups and used ball-screens to generate space and pressure with transition. While scoring from atypical players like Brett Kennedy and Peter Dearth salvaged the win, the defense almost sunk SU below .500.And this past Sunday, it allowed a Rutgers team playing its third game in eight days to establish another early lead. The RU duo of Kieran Mullins and Charalambides handed the Orange their worst defensive-frame of the season, scoring six times in the first. Syracuse stressed the importance of stopping RU’s transition game in practice, Desko said. But even though the Orange “beat it to death” before Saturday’s game, the Scarlet Knights still tallied a couple of fast break goals. But as seen through its up-and-down defensive stretch, Syracuse has adjusted well, but its opened other gaps. This past Sunday, it came in the form of Mullins operating from behind the goal, employing a now-familiar inverted-offense. SU’s defenders dropped into a zone when Mullins dropped low. But Rutgers countered and Charalambides capitalized. The 6-foot-2 attack rotated through crossing motions and the self-identifying non-dodger caught passes and whipped in goals. He scored on all of his first five shots, once causing Dearth to bend his stick over his head and shake his head at a replay. “We went into halftime and said, ‘Enough’s enough,’” Desko said. “If others were gonna hurt us, let them do it, but we can’t give this guy anymore.” The second-half strategy centered on stopping Charalambides with the 6-foot, 227-pound Tyson Bomberry. The senior face-guarded RU’s main threat and when SU rotated assignments, that defender retained the pressure. Syracuse’s defense settled. It allowed the attack and faceoff units to solve the Scarlet Knights’ defense and goalie Max Edelmann. Eventually, the fourth quarter turned into a shootout, and the offense took over, saving the team from its first defensive slump of the season.center_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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