SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim seems to take everything in stride, no matter what’s swirling around his Orange.
For the second time in the past year, Boeheim has lost a player because of eligibility concerns. On Saturday, the university announced just before the Orange’s tipoff against Villanova that senior James Southerland was out indefinitely.
A year ago, center Fab Melo missed three games in late January due to an academic issue, then was reinstated. But just before the start of the NCAA tournament, the sophomore was ruled ineligible again. He did not play another college game and was drafted by the Boston Celtics.
Although Boeheim cited privacy issues in declining to elaborate on Southerland’s status after the Orange’s 11-point win over the Wildcats, he was somewhat more open during a tour of ESPN studios in Connecticut on Monday.
“Kids are going to get in situations and over the years they have,” Boeheim said. “We have been fortunate to be very careful. We have two academic advisers, we have several people that work with our players through all kinds of issues and I think that’s why we never had that many problems over the years. But when they do strike, obviously, it is troubling.
“We will get through it, and hopefully, James will get through this.”
Syracuse (16-1, 4-0 Big East), which moved up one notch to sixth this week in the national rankings, will play at top-ranked Louisville on Saturday. Louisville (15-1) moved up from No. 3 on Monday after losses by Duke and Michigan over the weekend and has won 10 straight games since losing to Duke in the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Southerland has blossomed in the sixth-man role that has become so important at Syracuse since he arrived. He watched Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters excel as the first off the bench and embraced it when it was his turn, leading the team in scoring for much of the season after a career-high 35-point outburst that included nine 3-pointers in a win at Arkansas in late November.
Southerland has averaged 26.3 minutes and 13.6 points to rank third on the team in scoring, just behind leader Brandon Triche (14.1). And he’s raised his overall game to a much higher level. A streaky shooter, the lanky, 6-foot-8 Southerland also is averaging 5.2 rebounds and has 21 steals and 16 blocks.
With his long reach, and his energy, he has become a key defender in Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone defense.
“Southerland’s a big part of our team,” said C.J. Fair, who was named Big East player of the week Monday, following in the footsteps of Southerland and Triche earlier in the season. “James stretches the floor. He gets a lot of attention from the defense. When he’s not in there, they pack it in and force us to take 3s.
“We miss James out there.”
In Southerland’s absence, freshmen Jerami Grant, Dajuan Coleman and redshirt Trevor Cooney stepped up, combining for 25 points, three steals and two blocks in 61 combined minutes against Villanova.
At least Southerland was on the bench in street clothes, occasionally smiling as the Orange rallied for the win after trailing by a basket at halftime.
“James always makes you laugh. He’s always doing something funny to get you going,” Fair said. “He’s still there behind the scenes motivating us. He just can’t play.
“I think we can still reach our potential, but James being out is a big blow to our team. Nobody expected this. We just have to find a way to make up for his production.”
So far, so good.
“I guess it will be a day-to-day thing,” Cooney said. “You just have to prepare to go out there and play without him if he’s not here. If we get him back, it will be just great.”
The team was off Monday, the first day of classes in the spring semester.