Gutierrez: For Oshae Brissett, it’s looking like the NCAA Tournament all over again

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on February 3, 2019 at 11:44 pm Commentscenter_img PITTSBURGH — Oshae Brissett’s jumper hit the side of the backboard and Pittsburgh pushed up the floor, looking to pounce. “Oh come on,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after Brissett’s ugly miss. The Oakland Zoo, Pitt’s student section, got louder. The portable bleachers behind the basket rocked. The Orange’s double-digit lead had shrunk to six.Amid all the chaos of the road sellout, Brissett sought a still moment. At the free-throw line Saturday night, the Zoo chanted “U-S-A!” to Brissett, a native of Canada. He ignored them — he’s dealt with this kind of mockery before — and proceeded to swish his first free throw. He clapped his hands, holding them out in front of him. While making his way back on defense, he blew a kiss and waved his right arm for the whole section to see.It was an indication that he was comfortable and confident, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds in Syracuse’s (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic Coast) 65-56 win over the Panthers. It was his first double-double since Jan. 5 at Notre Dame. Brissett and his teammates agree that he’s capable of a double-double every night. Last offseason, Brissett tweaked his shot looking to make himself a more complete player. But early this season, he hadn’t showed signs of improvement from his breakout freshman year: his finishing was suspect, his outside shot inconsistent. Very little was reminiscent of last March during the NCAA Tournament when he averaged 17.0 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.Over the past couple of weeks, out popped the Brissett of 11 months ago. At long last, he’s starting to play like the Brissett of the Sweet 16 run. Forget his shooting struggles. His recent emergence, particularly in the high-post area, bolsters an SU interior with little presence. His renewal means more than just balance. It means more spacing. It means he can thrive and an otherwise iffy offense can cobble together more baskets inside the 3-point line. Should the Orange — winners of nine of their last 11 — parlay their recent success into the final weeks of the season, Brissett will be a lead reason.“I feel like I have a quick first step and I can get past guys,” Brissett said Saturday. “Being in a shooting slump now, my main focus is scoring inside.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHe’s shooting just 39.8 percent from the floor and 28.0 percent from deep this season. Against Pitt, he made 6-of-8 free throws. More important: He got to the line that many times in the first place. He attempted one 3-point shot on Saturday, an indication that he realizes the deep ball isn’t working at high volumes. Not now, anyway. He was 6-of-9 from the field, because the shots he did take were smart and unforced near the basket.“For a while, I was looking to get fouled and go to the free-throw line,” he said.Susie Teuscher | Digital Design EditorIn November, at Madison Square Garden, one NBA scout noted Brissett’s projected draft stock had dipped from 33rd to 80th, a likely undrafted prospect. You could see what he was, what he was working toward, and what he could be. But in truth he was underwhelming. He squandered layups and floaters by getting to the rim at will. Then he wouldn’t finish.If Syracuse is going to keep riding this stretch through February, Brissett will have to score. In the free-throw line area, his go-to moves — a pump fake or quick jab step — make him hard to guard. His face-up game out of the high post, where he makes snap judgments, will need to keep progressing. He can’t look to draw contact at the rim.“He’s most effective in the high post,” senior point guard Frank Howard said. “You can do all the plays, all the scouting you want, it’s different when he’s in those spots in front of you. We want him to be aggressive and give him space. His involvement there has led to our better shooting percentage.”When he faces his defender, he has options: Step into or across the man’s body, look to shoot a 10-footer, drive toward the basket, kick to a shooter on the wing, or dump off a pass to a baseline cutter. His strong outings against Boston College and Pittsburgh don’t mean he’ll thrive against bigger bodies, but he was the lone bright spot Jan. 26 in a 22-point loss at Virginia Tech.“We are trying to get him the ball in the high post,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said Saturday. “I thought Paschal Chukwu started out great … They stay with him and keep him blocked out, which gives Oshae (Brissett) a chance to drive and get to the basket.”At 6-foot-8, Brissett can rally his team by grabbing rebounds — he leads the team with 7.6 boards per game — and by racking up highlight-reel dunks and blocks. Asked if he’s ever doubted himself during cold stretches, he said “no, no.” Asked to assess Brissett’s overall game, Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara said: “He’s still really just scratching the surface.”With Howard and freshman guard Buddy Boeheim heating up from deep, Brissett doesn’t need to shoot 3s. For now, players said his versatile skill set fits best inside the arc, where he can go to work and give SU’s frontcourt any advantage it can getWe’ve seen, close up last March, that Brissett can change the game on one of college basketball’s biggest stages. Self-replication appears to be in store.Matthew Gutierrez is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or @matthewgut21.last_img read more