Syracuse continues search to replace McCullough’s contributions on offense, defense

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first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Michael Gbinije noticed it in pregame warm-ups before facing Wake Forest on Tuesday night.Syracuse wasn’t laughing as much. It wasn’t as loose. Its 6-foot-10 freshman forward stood hunched over a pair of crutches wearing black pants, a black T-shirt and a gold chain — a far cry from a basketball uniform.Orange head coach Jim Boeheim noticed it during the game. SU’s scoring load fell almost exclusively into three players’ hands. The wings of the 2-3 zone were late on rotation after rotation. The Demon Deacons could leave Tyler Roberson wide open in the high post and not pay for it.Whether it was before or during Syracuse’s win over WFU, the absence of Chris McCullough was apparent in the first game since he was ruled out for the season with a tear in his right ACL.“It hurts us more this year than most of the years I’ve been here because we’ve always had another guy that we could get in there,” Boeheim said. “But we’re really struggling right now.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAfter working through McCullough’s personal growing pains — the high-potential freshman started his career with eight straight double-digit scoring games before scoring seven or less in the seven before his injury — the Orange is now entering an even more trying process.SU isn’t just trying to replace the 9.3 points and 6.9 rebounds that McCullough was averaging, but also his around-the-rim defense and intangible ability to draw opposing defenses away from Syracuse’s more consistent scoring options. And the search for answers on both ends of the floor continues as Syracuse (13-4, 4-0 Atlantic Coast) travels to play at Clemson (9-7, 1-3) at 4 p.m. on Saturday.“I think Roberson and Kaleb (Joseph) and (Ron) Patterson are going to have some big games coming up down the stretch,” Gbinije said. “They’re going to get it going, I have a good feeling about that, and if we’re going to be successful down the road and in tournament play, we’re going to need everybody.”Roberson started in McCullough’s place and, aside from demanding little-to-no attention outside of the paint on offense, collected 10 rebounds and just two fouls, allowing him to play 44 of the game’s 45 minutes.Boeheim was critical of Roberson after the game and also disappointed with sophomore B.J. Johnson, who he hoped would come in and play adequate defense while spacing the floor as a perimeter threat. But Johnson was on the court for just three minutes, rushing a contested jump shot on his first possession and moving a step behind in the zone.“(Johnson)’s got to play defense. If he doesn’t score, I don’t care,” Boeheim said. “We need him to be more productive obviously, but we’ll see how that goes.”Aside from Johnson’s short stint in place of Gbinije, Boeheim played forwards Gbinije, Roberson and Rakeem Christmas for 131 of a possible 135 minutes. Additionally, Gbinije, Christmas and Trevor Cooney scored 73 of the Orange’s 86 points and SU needed overtime to barely edge a .500 Wake Forest team.Until Roberson or Johnson, or both, find a way to contribute offensively, McCullough’s injury will water down Syracuse’s offense while tightening an already thin rotation.Clemson is a slightly tougher opponent that beat then-No. 18 Arkansas on Dec. 7 and has already beaten Pittsburgh and lost to then-No. 19 North Carolina, then-No. 5 Louisville and then-No. 2 Virginia in its ACC schedule.The Tigers are paced offensively by forward Jaron Blossomgame — who averages 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game — and have the conference’s seventh-best defense allowing 62.4 points per contest.Clemson isn’t exactly tailor-made to expose the Orange’s new holes, but it is a game that will expedite a process that Syracuse can’t dwell on for too long.McCullough isn’t coming back, not this year at least, and SU can’t afford to lose any conference game it can feasibly win.“It’s just one of those things that happens in sports,” Boeheim said. “Ohio State won the national championship and they lost two guys. You just have to play, it’s unfortunate.” Comments Published on January 16, 2015 at 2:14 pm Contact Jesse: [email protected] | @dougherty_jesselast_img

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