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Gutierrez: Tyus Battle keeps refining his game, but his progression can’t end soon


first_imgBLACKSBURG, Va. — All his life, the coaches, parents and teammates who’d recognized Tyus Battle’s talents also recognized how he could do more. They implored him to go get the ball, attack the basket and not shy away from taking consecutive shots. “Take control!” his father, Gary, often yelled at AAU games. “That’s you!” he said as Battle drilled a basket at Duke two weeks ago.On any given night, Battle can drop 25 or 30 points. He’s developed his left hand, improved his shot, relied on his step back jumper in big moments, dropped devastating floaters in the paint and learned how to play point guard. At this point of his career, his only glaring weakness is his shooting. For Syracuse, he’s been the most important and versatile player over the past two seasons.Still, he needs to be more aggressive.Battle’s aggression is linked to Syracuse’s success against stronger conference teams. SU’s 78-56 loss Saturday night at No. 10 Virginia Tech — with only three Battle field goals — represented the latest sample of that trend. Battle, with a team-high 17.4 points per game, can’t shy away from being at top form. It’s integral if Syracuse (14-6, 5-2 Atlantic Coast) wants to go from good to great, from proverbial bubble team to NCAA Tournament lock.Battle, 21, knows this. He and head coach Jim Boeheim have said repeatedly that for a balanced offense, Battle must be the engine. Assistant coach Gerry McNamara said he reminds Battle to take command and be an “every-second guy” — one who plays with a relentless fire, every play. When he’s consistent, so is SU.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I have to be aggressive and that’s the bottom line,” Battle said.Susie Teuscher | Digital Design EditorWhen he attacks, the floor opens up. His misses generally come from good shot selection, and that’s because there are seldom transition buckets off his errant shots. Because teams have keyed on Battle this season, they’ve sometimes overplayed him. That, in turn, leaves room for SU bigs to crash the boards and get easy buckets, said sophomore forward Marek Dolezaj.“If Tyus is going, really attacking, everybody’s going,” Dolezaj said. “He’s our starting machine.”Ever since Battle flipped his commitment from Michigan to Syracuse, the expectation was that he’d play right away. He started 25 games and got the green light to shoot toward the end of his freshman season, when he averaged 11.3 points on nearly nine shots per game. Expectations for his sophomore season grew, given he was the only returning starter and widely expected to enter the NBA draft after the season.The latter didn’t happen. But Boeheim leveraged Battle’s decision to return to college when, at halftime of SU’s game against Georgetown on Dec. 8, Boeheim challenged him: “When you play like this, you shouldn’t have come back.”Battle took over the rest of that game. He did the same at then-No. 1 Duke. He was aggressive, and his team needed him to be.The Orange won three straight games in January and jumped to a 5-1 start in conference play because of several reasons, including senior center Paschal Chukwu’s emergence, senior point guard Frank Howard’s recovery from an injury and Buddy Boeheim’s rhythm from deep. But all of what has fueled Syracuse’s strong start to conference play is rooted in Battle.And yet his scoring is down from last year, from 19.2 points per game to 17.4. His shot-taking has also dipped from 15.8 field-goal attempts per game to 13.2.“Tyus has so much talent, sometimes he just lays back,” said former SU guard and team staffer Eric Devendorf, now a special assistant at Detroit Mercy. “He needs to attack more.”Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff PhotographerSaturday night against the Hokies high-pressure defense, Battle was neutralized. The Hokies scouting report centered on limiting Battle, said senior guard Justin Robinson. But one move from Battle to start the second half offered a glimmer of the player he could be, the player he’s been at times. Battle found a window standing 25 feet from the basket and made up his mind. He exploded with his left toward the rim and floated a shot to spark a 9-0 SU run.In the cramped locker room at Cassell Coliseum, after most Syracuse players had left for the team bus, Battle stood in the center of the room. He’s usually one of the last to leave the arena because he’s usually the one with the biggest swarm of cameras around him. But on this night, he stood alone, untangling a pair of headphones. He’d scored just 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting. His first points didn’t come until 11 minutes into the game.“I have to be more aggressive,” Battle said. “They did a good job defensively closing off the lane, standing there waiting for us to drive. It was tough to even pass the ball. They were in the passing lanes pretty well. They’re a good defensive team, but I have to do a better job.”There have been stretches during Battle’s career when he’s been virtually unguardable. “Cold-blooded,” McNamara said after the Georgetown win on Dec. 8. Battle’s size — 6-foot-6, 205 pounds — and explosive first step toward the paint give him an edge.“Yeah, one-on-one,” Battle said when asked if he’s unguardable. “I don’t really see the first defender. It’s just the help defense I have to worry about.”He plays with fluidity, long strides and, at times, wailing arms. When he gets into his zone, there’s not much opponents can do.That should be enough indication of the player Battle is. He can’t leave Syracuse wanting and needing more. He knows it, too.Matthew Gutierrez is a senior staff writer for The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at mguti100@syr.edu or @matthewgut21. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 28, 2019 at 12:37 amlast_img

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