SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!
It's a wonder Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim hasn't gone hoarse imploring guard Brandon Triche to take his game to another level.
Now, as the regular season winds down, the low-key sophomore shooting guard for the No. 17th Orange (21-6, 8-6 Big East) seems to be coming of age. He matched his season high with four 3-pointers and scored a season-high 21 points in a tough 73-69 loss at Louisville on Saturday, then had 20 points in a 63-52 home win over West Virginia on Monday night.
"Taking shots is better than turning the ball over," said Triche, who at 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds seems like he'd be a perfect fit at middle linebacker on the Orange football team. "I'm just trying to be aggressive and get in the lane and commit two guys (to guarding me) so I can hit the open player. If not, I have a good chance at scoring."
Scoring has always come easy for Triche. He had 1,926 points in his career at Jamesville-DeWitt High School in suburban Syracuse, was named 2009 Gatorade New York boys basketball player of the year, and joined former Jamesville-DeWitt star Andy Rautins on the Orange last season.
Triche started every game at point guard as a freshman and averaged 8.1 points on a team that reached No. 1 in the national rankings late in the season. He shot 50 percent from the floor, hitting 32 of 80 shots (40 percent) from beyond the arc, and had 99 assists with 71 turnovers, a solid addition to a team that finished 30-5 and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. And every so often, Triche showcased his considerable scoring skills. He went 6 of 6 from long range, and scored a career-high 27 points in a win over Oakland (Mich.).
With the departure of Rautins, though, Boeheim switched Triche to shooting guard this season and moved Scoop Jardine to the point. But Triche has often struggled in his new role. In the first nine games, he attempted 7.4 shots, and only reached double figures once.
In the ensuing 18 games, though, he's only failed to reach double figures four times, and in 14 Big East games, he's averaged 10 shots and 13 points to raise his season average to nearly 11 points.
"I think he's feeling more comfortable," said Gerry McNamara, who had a school-record 400 3-pointers in his Syracuse career and now serves as a graduate assistant. "He's really asserting himself. That's what coach wanted him to do all season. When he gets going, he's as good of a shooter that's out there. Early in the season, I think he was a little hesitant."
Against West Virginia, Triche played 31 minutes, and the Mountaineers had trouble stopping him. He began the game by rebounding West Virginia's first shot. He took the ball the other way, hit a pullup 3-pointer from the left wing, and never looked back.
With the Mountaineers ahead by four points early in the second, Triche scored six points on consecutive possessions. He converted a three-point play, and then curled off a screen on the right wing for another 3 to tie the game at 35-all.
And when West Virginia closed a nine-point deficit to a basket with 8:22 left, Triche came through again. Playing with four fouls, he stole the ball near the top of the key, took it back down the court and made a driving layup through the heart of the Mountaineers defense to cap a six-point spurt that gave the Orange a 57-52 lead.
"I need to play the role that Andy (Rautins) played last year," said Triche, whose uncle, Howard Triche, starred on the Syracuse team that lost to Indiana, 74-73, in the 1987 national championship game. "I need to knock down the 3s and play tough defense at the top of the zone. My coaches have been telling me, 'Start early, try to give us a lift.'"
Triche finished 7 of 12 from the floor and hit all four of his free throws against West Virginia. He has hit 8 of 19 from beyond the arc in the past three games.
"Coach told him he wanted him to focus in on scoring and being more aggressive," assistant coach Rob Murphy said. "It takes time to get out of that point guard mode and get into that scoring mode, just to get comfortable in a new role. I think he's done that now.
"He's very strong, and when you're a strong guard and you're 6-4, it means you can defend, you can rebound, you can get to the basket. Even with the bumping, you're able to finish. More importantly, his shot is just coming along. He really can shoot the ball from the outside."
Boeheim figures Triche is right on schedule as the Orange prepare to host Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) on Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
"It takes a year for most college players to get accustomed to what the game's about," Boeheim said. "He had a solid freshman year. He's making the normal progression. It takes most kids into their sophomore year at least to get comfortable. I think Brandon is ahead of schedule."
So, too, does Bob McKenney, Triche's high school coach.
"I think he's had a great year. People are starting now to see just what he's capable of," McKenney said. "Early, when he was taking a lot of criticism, he was doing the right thing but not scoring. His nature has always been to take good shots.
"He was a great point guard for us and still scored 20 a game. If he wanted to score 40 a game, he had the ability and we would have let him — he was that good."