SYRACUSE — As Syracuse teeters on the brink of missing the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, the Orange's biggest problem might just be the confidence of their role players.
The big three — guards Tyus Battle and Frank Howard and freshman forward Oshae Brissett — have carried the team offensively, accounting for nearly three-fourths of the points the Orange have scored. That hasn't worked so well all too often, and as the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament looms Syracuse (18-12, 7-10 ACC) is stumbling.
The Orange are riding a three-game losing streak heading into Saturday's season finale at home against No. 18 Clemson (22-7, 11-6).
"We don't have other guys that are capable of scoring," coach Jim Boeheim said after Wednesday night's 85-70 loss at Boston College. "That's really what it is, basically."
It hasn't been like that in every game.
Of the Orange's victories this season, ones that stand out were against Maryland, Buffalo, Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Louisville. Except for the important road win over the Cardinals, Syracuse had at least four players in double figures in each of those victories, and starters Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu combined for 13 points against Louisville.
In losses to St. Bonaventure, Kansas, Notre Dame, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina State, and North Carolina, only the big three were in double figures, and against Duke only Battle and Howard scored more than 10.
The apparent lack of confidence is confounding at this stage of the season, especially considering that Dolezaj is shooting 51.5 percent for the season and has displayed a sweet touch on short jumpers.
"We trust our guys," Brissett said. "Whenever they have the ball you want them to do something. It's not like we're trying to hog the ball. They've got to find the confidence in themselves."
During the current skid that's also included the losses to Duke and North Carolina, the reluctance to shoot by anybody not named Battle, Howard or Brissett has been striking. In a four-point setback at home to the Tar Heels, Chukwu, Dolezaj, Matthew Moyer and Bourama Sidibe combined to go 4-of-7 shooting for seven points in 80 minutes of floor time. Against BC , Moyer and Dolezaj combined to play 44 minutes and attempted one shot, while the 7-foot-2 Chukwu played 35 minutes and took just three shots, though he was hampered by a sore knee.
Dolezaj's performance was in stark contrast to the first meeting between the teams . In an 18-point victory over the Eagles in late January, the freshman from Slovakia, who's averaging just over 26 minutes and 4.9 points, was 4 for 4 from the field and perfect on four attempts from the free throw line for a season-high 12 points. (Moyer, a redshirt freshman, was injured in the game and only played five minutes).
"I don't think that Marek is really looking to score. I don't know why," Boeheim said. "He has opportunities and he just looks at the basket and passes it."
Despite the latest loss, the Orange still have a chance to salvage an NCAA Tournament berth with a win over Clemson and a good showing in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament next week. Trouble is, since joining the conference the Orange are 0-3 in the ACC tourney.
"It's not even pressure," Battle said. "We've just got to win."