Tyus Battle’s return crucial as Syracuse enters NCAA Tournament without Frank Howard

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 21, 2019 at 10:05 am Contact Charlie: csdistur@syr.edu | @charliedisturcocenter_img Despite losing in just its second game of the conference tournament, Syracuse took a step forward.Freshman Buddy Boeheim scored a team-high 20 points in a come-from-behind win over Pittsburgh, while Elijah Hughes nailed five 3s. Oshae Brissett strung together arguably his best second half all season against Duke and Frank Howard’s season-long slump was put on hold with 28 points that same night.More importantly, it all happened without SU’s star player: Tyus Battle.Battle had suffered a sore back after taking a hard fall late against Clemson on March 9, and he missed a week of practice and Syracuse’s conference tournament. But both he and head coach Jim Boeheim affirmed that SU’s leading scorer would be healthy come No. 8-seed Syracuse’s (20-13, 10-8 Atlantic Coast) Round of 64 NCAA Tournament contest against No. 9 seed Baylor (19-13, 10-8 Big 12) on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Battle’s return coincides with another loss as it was announced that Howard has been suspended indefinitely “due to a violation of athletic department policy,” SU Athletics announced in a press release.“We played very well without Tyus and now we can get him back,” Boeheim, who will make his 34th NCAA Tournament appearance, said. “That’s really going to help us.” AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAnna Henderson | Digital Design EditorSunday marked the first full practice for Battle since going down with the injury. He was “rusty,” Boeheim said, but he expected him to be 100 percent by Tuesday. Battle added that his back had improved each day and would be ready to play in the Tournament. The junior guard averages a team-high 17.2 points per game and even took on a larger role as the season progressed. With Howard’s early-season injury and freshman Jalen Carey’s slow start, Battle played more point guard.It was a position he was largely unfamiliar with in college, and both he and the Orange struggled without Howard, dropping two games in Madison Square Garden. But over time, he adjusted and now boasts a career-high assists per game total. “Fortunately, Tyus has played the point quite a bit this year,” Boeheim said Wednesday evening. “… It is very similar to last week when we found out Tyus wouldn’t play. I thought the players made a great adjustment. We played really well in both games in the tournament. And we’re going to have to make that same adjustment this week with a different guy going.”Throughout the season, Syracuse has relied on Battle to take over the load of the offense. He’s saved the Orange from multiple upset losses and guided them to a monumental win over top-ranked Duke. In the ACC tournament, Syracuse was without its leader and it showed early on. The Orange fell behind by five at half against Pittsburgh, a team it had easily beaten twice before, on 34.5 percent shooting from the field.Something clicked during the half, though, and intensity followed. Pittsburgh shot 24.5 percent from the field, while Buddy, Howard and Elijah Hughes combined for 6-of-11 from 3. The Orange routed the Panthers, 73-59.SU lost the following day to Duke, and the Orange seemingly needed something extra against an eventual top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It needed its star player.  Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff Photographer“I know how bad he wants to play,” Brissett said Wednesday. “We need him, especially right now. A guy that will just give his heart for this team …  His passion really brings us all up. He’s a leader.” Syracuse already defeated Duke earlier in the season and led at halftime in the second matchup inside the Carrier Dome before coming up short. The same happened at North Carolina, where the Tar Heels would eke away in large part due to the free-throw line. Both games, Battle led the team in scoring, and even had 23 of SU’s 39 second-half points against the Tar Heels.Without Howard in the NCAA Tournament, though, Syracuse will have to make last-second adjustments. The pressure will be on the Orange, which if it gets by Baylor on Thursday, then has a likely matchup with No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Once again, Syracuse’s survival rests on the performance of Battle, and that’s not anything new to him. “I know we’re going to pick up the slack,” Battle said, “and we are going to be ready to play.”last_img