In the first half of Thursday night's 85-72 win over Florida State, the Syracuse Orange came out on fire. They made 59.3% of their shots from the floor, including 5-10 from three-point range and all five free throws. It seemed unsustainable-- surely the Orange wouldn't shoot that well in the second half. And they didn't; they got better.
Syracuse, a team ranked 13 of 15 in offense in the ACC, that hadn't topped 50% all season, finished the night with a blistering 62% success rate on field goals. And yes, drilling 47.1% from long range doesn't hurt. But the real reason SU made nearly two-thirds of its shots is because, as it turns out, dunks and layups are pretty easy.
Which brings us to the FSU defense. Listen: teams get hot. It happens. This may not be vintage Syracuse, but it's still a tradition-rich team with plenty of talent instructed by a well-respected, veteran coach coming off a week and a half of rest and playing in a tough venue (Thursday's reported attendance at the Carrier Dome topped 22,000). So sometimes, threes fall. If a guy wants to jack up a bomb, there's only so much you can do about it.
Two-point field goal defense, however, tends to speak much louder about a team's defensive effectiveness. And that's where Syracuse's 62% overall FG shooting really begins and ends. On two-point attempts, 'Cuse made 23 of 33 shots: that's 69.7%. Seven of every ten shots authored from within the arc found twine. That's absolutely miserable defensive execution on FSU's behalf.
And it started on the perimeter, where the 'Noles were utterly inept stopping the Syracuse dribble drive. When that initial Seminole defender was left in the dust, shortcomings in the Florida State team defense were exposed time and again, as backside defenders were often out of position. And even when help-side defenders were in position, they needed to vacate their previous spots to stop the ball-- so someone then needs to pick up their cover, and the defensive rotation is still lacking in this regard.
Hence the myriad Orange dunks, a number of which weren't even challenged. And frankly, this brings us around to threes as well, as 'Cuse had a number of open opportunities after FSU had rotated well out of position. It was an embarrassment of riches for the Orange, as four of five starters, and both bench players who attempted a shot, made more often than they missed.
There's plenty of room for improvement for the 'Noles, defensively. Strides need to be taken both individually and collectively, but there were flashes. FSU trimmed a 14-point first-half deficit to just three at the half by creating turnovers, many of which came via active hands muddling passing lanes ('Cuse turned it over 20 times on the night). But defense is played from the ground up, and if the 'Noles don't move their feet better, they'll quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the tourney bubble.
You may be asking yourself: where's the discussion of the FSU offense? Honestly, it's intentionally omitted, because if the defense remains this bad, it won't matter.
That said, this was by no means a bad loss, and FSU still doesn't have one this season. Plus, the Seminoles have a chance to gain the last laugh by avenging this loss to Syracuse at the Tucker Center in each team's regular season finale. And on the near horizon, Florida State has a great opportunity to register an impressive win against the No. 12 Miami Hurricanes on Sunday night in Tallahassee. After winning four of their last five ACC contests, the 'Noles should expect -- and, despite Thursday night's defeat, have probably earned -- a raucous home crowd for that Valentine's Day showdown with a bitter rival.