Louis Dale was helpless.
The 2007-08 Ivy League Player of the Year and Honorable Mention All-American feebly chased Syracuse guard Brandon Triche as the true freshman barreled down the lane toward the hoop at the Jim Boeheim Court.
With a step on Dale, Triche was met in the lane by 2008-09 Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Foote, a towering 7-foot, 265 pound center along with another Cornell defender. Triche split the help and, while reducing the rest of the Big Red to spectators, gracefully kissed the ball off the backboard and through the basket while drawing contact from Dale for a conventional 3-point play.
Dale, a senior, could only throw his hands up in disgust as Triche added three of his team-high 21 points that night en route to a 88-73 victory on Nov. 24. What was more frustrating for Dale was that with Triche manning the top of the Syracuse 2-3 zone, Dale was held to just three points on 1-for-6 shooting and five turnovers.
“One of the main focal points of my game was just being strong,” Triche said. “I work out every day just to be that way.”
Syracuse fans, meet your new starting point guard.
It was a reluctant introduction given the Orange’s offeseason. During the summer, Syracuse saw Jonny Flynn declare early for the NBA draft before being drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Flynn wasn’t the only one to leave as fellow starters Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris left to begin professional careers as well.
Still, the loss of Devendorf and Harris didn’t hurt so much given the Orange’s depth. Senior guard Andy Rautins had started for a piece of the 2007-08 season and junior transfer Wesley Johnson had already made a name for himself at Iowa State.
The real concern for head coach Jim Boeheim was the Orange’s ability to replace Flynn’s team-leading 17.4 points and 6.7 assists per game.
“In college basketball you always have to be prepared to lose key guys,” Boeheim said. “You’re going to lose guys, whether they’re good or if they’re seniors.”
Enter Triche, a 6-foot-4, 198 pound playmaker who just graduated from nearby Jamesville-Dewitt High School. The nephew of former Syracuse star Howie Triche, the freshman won the starting point guard job out of summer camp.
Besides Triche, Boeheim had redshirt sophomore Scoop Jardine, who had missed all of last year with a stress fracture in his leg. In his freshman year, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Jardine played in 33 games as Flynn’s backup, averaging 5.5 points and 2.5 assists.
Needless to say, Syracuse didn’t have tremendous experience at point, but that didn’t particularly concern Boeheim.
“They’re inexperienced players, but, we’ve had inexperienced point guards in the past that have adjusted and played well,” Boeheim said. “What they need to do is get the ball to people. We have guys that have proven they can score at this level and we don’t need our point guard to score as much as our point guards have scored in the past.”
Triche did little to ease the worries in his first regular season game against Albany. Triche played 25 minutes and committed six turnovers.
“I told him the other day that I wanted him to be aggressive and go to the basket, but I didn’t want him to run over five guys,” Boeheim said. “He’ll learn from that.”
Indeed, he did.
Just 10 days later in Syracuse’s semifinal matchup against then-No. 12 California, Triche and Jardine combined for 31 points, seven assists and three turnovers. Three of Triche’s points game during a crucial 15-4 run early in the second half, as Triche drove to the lane and converted a 3-point play that sealed a Syracuse win.
“[That was] a huge play to start the second half,” Boeheim said. “He is a freshman, got in the lane and made a play. He is a very good player.”
One night later, Triche added 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting from the field in Syracuse’s 87-71 drubbing of then-No. 6 North Carolina. And it was Triche who was once again one of the catalysts of the upset, as his 2-point jumper started a 22-1 Syracuse run that broke open the game for Syracuse.
“We tell him he’s not a freshman,” Johnson said. “He’s not playing like it.”
Now that enough of the season has passed, it’s clear that Syracuse will be operating as a two-headed point guard with Triche and Jardine the rest of the way.
The two have been interchangeable thus far, and are quickly making Syracuse fans forget about their last point guard.
“Last season, they had one point guard,” Triche said. “[Scoop and I are] trying to be as productive together as they were last season at the position.”
Statistically, Syracuse has actually been more productive with Triche and Jardine than it was with Flynn.
As of November 28, Triche was averaging 11.2 points and 2.7 assists while Jardine was averaging 9.7 points and 5.5 assists. So combined, the two have given Syracuse 21.9 points and 8.2 assists in essentially the same amount of time that it took Flynn to get his 17.4 points and 6.7 assists per game.
Of course, even with the statistics, no one would say that Syracuse is better off offensively without Flynn. On the other hand, defensively, the 6-foot-2 Jardine and the 6-foot-4 Triche are longer than the 6-foot Flynn (who in reality is probably closer to 5-foot-10).
Against the Golden Bears, Triche and Jardine forced the California guards into a combined 11 turnovers and the following game, the North Carolina guards combined for eight.
“It all starts with our defense,” Boeheim said. When we are active on defense we are a better team.”
And while Boeheim is not ready to anoint Triche and Jardine the next Gerry McNamara or Jason Hart, there is certainly more than enough reason to be optimistic.
“They are guards, they will get better,” Boeheim said. “We will get better. We have to get a lot better but we will get there.”
This article was originally published in the November 2009 edition of The Juice.