Virginia Tech shuts down Joe Girard III in a 15-point win over Syracuse.

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BLACKSBURG, Va. – Jim Boeheim said he was “very impressed” with Joe Girard III being able to step into the lineup and get his own shot this season. For Boeheim, that’s especially true in Syracuse’s last three contests where Girard averaged more than 22 points per game. The senior last time he did that was against Lakey Black, one of the best defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and in his last meeting against Virginia Tech, Girard totaled 24 points.

On Saturday night, VTT head coach Mike Young knew Girard’s potential. That’s why he implemented the “Five Man Proposition” to stop him. Hunter Cator was Girard’s primary defender, but holding the guard to just seven points was not a one-man effort. Virginia Tech was blocked on pin downs, didn’t let Girard get around screens and held him to 2-for-8 shooting in an 85-70 road loss at Syracuse.

“Joe has to score for them. It should,” Young said. “Limiting him to seven points is one hell of a defensive effort.”

Boeheim said the postgame didn’t contrast with the 10-point loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 11. But this time, the Hokies had the services of Kator, a 6-foot-3 senior. The last meeting.

In previous years, Young also had Cator guard Buddy Boeheim, a tough matchup given Buddy’s 6-foot-6 frame and ability to hit fade balls, the coach said. Like Buddy the past two seasons, Girard has been the Orange’s go-to scoring option this season, leading the team in points at 17.5 per game. So, Young gave Virginia Tech a good matchup and put Cator on him, Cator has two inches and 10 pounds on Girard.

As Jesse Edwards tried to free Girard with split screens inside, the Hokies’ bigs blocked the ball from Girard. VT didn’t let him get off screens on the perimeter, but they didn’t overextend Girard to get open in the corners.

“You can’t keep good players and good scorers with one person,” Young said.

Young said the Hokies have done a good job of not letting Girard get off screens and inside, where he likes to shoot fake, hit and score or draw fouls — sometimes both. The five-man effort worked, the coach said, with the VT defense doing a “fantastic job” and Cator working in Girard’s footsteps all night.

“They did a great job on everybody,” Girard said. “They were very aggressive getting screens on everyone and their defensive play on everyone, not just me, was great.”

Virginia Tech took a double-digit lead midway through the first half by knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, and Syracuse’s offense responded by looking for quick attacks. Boeheim used three of the four timeouts allotted to try to find something to bring the Orange back inside. Justin Taylor said Boeheim’s focus was to get SU into possessions in timeouts and after several possessions, one man dunked and four other orange jerseys stood.

Syracuse tried to run more plays for Taylor and Girard, according to the freshman, but it didn’t matter because of Virginia Tech’s success from deep. Girard tried to find a rhythm, using a nice crossing move to create a missed open 3. In the second half, he missed any moves after his press steal and was stuffed in one of his few driving attempts.

Girard said he didn’t move much off the ball and needed to move to find open spaces to gain the advantage. Girard still got one-on-one opportunities, but he wasn’t able to create space or penetrate like he has the past three games, Boeheim said. “He couldn’t get rid of it. I couldn’t get the shot,” the coach said.

Boeheim turned to Simir Torrens in place of Girard to make a significant move in the second half as Syracuse needed more length and movement as it tried to claw its way back into the game. Girard said he was impressed with Torrens’ energy, defense and ability to stabilize the Orange this season. Torrance finished with eight points, five rebounds and two steals, but Syracuse couldn’t get any closer than 12 in the second half.

“If I had known (Girard) was going to be that bad, I would have played Simmer more,” Boeheim said.

Torrence, however, is not an offensive threat. Young said Girard needs to score for SU to win games. And on a night when Syracuse trailed for all but two minutes, they needed their leading scorer to put points on the board.

As Boeheim said, it might just be one night. But with the Orange in a season where essentially every game is a must-win if they want to get back to the NCAA Tournament, Girard can’t afford those. Saturday night proved that.

“Joe was great, he had a bad game,” Boeheim said. “He had a couple at the beginning of the year and he came back from them.”


Contact Connor: [email protected] | @csmith17_

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