The story was written with an eye towards next season when it is expected that Hughes will have moved on from Syracuse for a pro career, but the lessons implied need to start sooner.
The future is now for Syracuse basketball’s freshman duo of Joe Girard III and Quincy Guerrier, starting Saturday when the Orange visit No. 8 Florida State.
Hughes’ status is unknown for Saturday’s game. He insisted on Twitter that his groin injury is “nothing major” but it would be a big leap to assume he’ll be his usual dominant self on Saturday if he plays.
That’s where SU’s young guns come into the picture.
Girard and Guerrier both stepped up for the Orange on Tuesday night, combining for 46 points in a losing effort to NC State.
Girard joined an exclusive club (Lawrence Moten, Carmelo Anthony and Pearl Washington) as players that have scored 30 points in a game during their freshman campaigns.
Beggars can’t be choosers when one scores 30 points, but the cold truth is Girard has to more from beyond the arc going forward. He was 1-of-10 overall from distance against NC State and is 11-of-50 from the 3-point line in his last seven games.
As a team, Syracuse shot .369 from distance in its first 17 games. It has all but faded as a weapon in SU’s last seven games with a .264 mark from distance. Girard has to light the fire and start hitting more of the open looks he gets from beyond the arc.
With Hughes hurt, it sets off a chain reaction for Syracuse. Opposing teams know that Buddy Boeheim becomes a primary offensive threat at that point and can key on him defensively. NC State did just that and made his life miserable as Boeheim shot 4-of-15 on Tuesday night.
Guerrier was like a battering ram in the paint for the Orange, fighting for 16 points, 10 rebounds and was whistled for just one foul in 37 minutes against NC State. Guerrier had fouled out of Syracuse’s prior two games.
Guerrier acknowledged the extra minutes wore on him.
“Yeah, I was tired sometimes,” Guerrier said. “The media timeout was really helping. My mindset was I gotta play hard all the time. I know no one was about to sub for me. There’s no one on the bench. I was trying to play smart, making the right plays.”
The key for Guerrier is to continue to stay out of foul trouble, take what is given to him on the offensive end and hit free throws. His 6′7, 220-pound frame serves him well in a big boy league, but his play can drift to “bull in a china shop” status.
“He’s getting better. He’s gotta be better,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said tuesday. “He ran out of gas the last 10 minutes, he disappeared. He just hasn’t played that much and I think he got tired. But he was really good for the first 30 minutes of the game. Really good. And again, I want the best from him, I want more from him and I think there’s more there.”
Florida State is going to be a tremendous first hurdle for Girard and Guerrier to step up their game and seek consistency. Leonard Hamilton’s eighth-ranked Seminoles come at you in waves, with 10 players averaging double-digit minutes.
That’s the tough spot Guerrier and Girard have been put in. Syracuse has two big, shiny Quad 1 games left on the schedule in their next two games at Florida State and Louisville.
If Syracuse loses both of those games, winning the ACC Tournament could be their only realistic option of reaching March Madness.
How quickly Guerrier and Girard transition from freshman to sophomores will tell us when to count Syracuse out or keep the Orange in the game.