Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is dealing with a little uncertainty as his No. 16 Orange head into their season opener.
Injuries to the team’s three point guards — starter Frank Howard and backups Howard Washington and Jalen Carey — forced Boeheim to use shooting guard Tyus Battle at the point in the team’s two exhibition games, against Saint Rose and Le Moyne. The Orange, who easily beat both Division II teams, open the season Tuesday night at home against Eastern Washington.
“We won’t know anything until probably right about game time,” Boeheim said. “At least now we’ve had two games … with Tyus handling the ball and doing stuff. That’s good for us. We’ll see who’s ready.”
Syracuse defeated crosstown rival Le Moyne last Wednesday, getting a team-high 21 points from East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes. Battle finished with 13 points, five assists and zero turnovers as four players scored in double figures in the 89-52 victory.
The Orange defeated Saint Rose 77-45 in their exhibition opener on Oct. 25, when Hughes and Boeheim’s son, Buddy, each scored 19. Battle had only seven points on 1-for-10 shooting and assisted on six baskets with two turnovers.
“These games hurt us a little bit because we’re playing out of position, so I think it has a little less value from that standpoint,” Boeheim said. “Tyus is much better when he is off the ball and can make his plays. When he’s doing the point, it’s just not the same.
“It’s hard to make that switch. He’s always been a scoring guard. When he gets his opportunities, he’s got to get to the basket.”
Howard is nursing an ankle injury and is out of the walking boot he was wearing in mid-October, but he’s doubtful for the opener. Carey is recovering from a sprained ankle he suffered in the Orange’s camp-opening scrimmage just over two weeks ago, while Washington is close to returning from surgery on torn ligaments in his right knee, which he suffered during practice last January.
The season-ending injury to Washington came after the best game of his freshman season — nine points and three rebounds in a double overtime loss at No. 23 Florida State. Both Washington and Carey have taken part in recent practices.
Eastern Washington, picked to finish fourth in the Big Sky Conference, returns four starters from last year’s team, which finished 20-15. The departure of the conference’s all-time leading scorer, Bogdan Bliznyuk, who was the league MVP, leaves a big void. He finished his career with 2,169 points.
As for the Orange, the staff expects big things right from the opening tip.
“We’re in a good state of mind,” assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “We have the right pieces. We’re as deep as we’ve been in a long time. We’re in a good position. We just have to make sure that we come together and play selflessly. If we do those things, I think we’re going to be in good shape.”