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Syracuse can’t find its center, falls to South Carolina

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim reacts against the

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim reacts against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016. Credit: Getty Images / Michael Reaves

Four days after crushing overmatched South Carolina State in the Carrier Dome, the Syracuse Orange ventured out of Central New York for the first time this season Saturday and came to Barclays Center to take on undefeated South Carolina in the Brooklyn Holiday Hoops Invitational. That’s South Carolina — not South Carolina State. Big difference.

Playing in an arena full of orange-clad Syracuse supporters, the Gamecocks delivered a wake-up call to the Orange, holding them to 31.8 percent shooting from the floor and handing them their first loss of the young season, 64-50.

“They played great defense — the best defense we’ve seen, obviously, this year, but as good a defense as we’ve seen in a long time,’’ Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of South Carolina (6-0). “They were really good defensively; they moved the ball, they got two tough threes right off the bat, and made ’em both, and we were just plugging uphill.’’

Playing in Brooklyn, home of one of the Orange’s greatest players, the late Dwayne “Pearl’’ Washington, Syracuse (4-1) got off to a sluggish start, missing its first two shots and turning the ball over three times in the first two minutes. They were forced to play catch-up thereafter and never were able to; South Carolina led the entire game.

“Coach [Frank Martin] told us to work the zone and . . . get deep in the shot clock,’’ South Carolina guard P.J. Dozier (15 points, 10 rebounds) said. “We knew they would play a pretty tough zone; that’s what they’re known for. We were just trying to pick our spots and be able to get open shots.’’

Many of those shots were in the paint, where the Gamecocks scored 30 points, compared with eight for Syracuse. While insisting that his team’s offense was a bigger problem than the defense, Boeheim nevertheless called out his team’s centers — 6-9 senior DaJuan Coleman and 7-2 sophomore transfer Paschal Chukwu, in particular — as not being good enough in the post.

“I’m disappointed with our centers’ defense, both on the high post and the low post,’’ Boeheim said. “I don’t think our centers got the job done today. They were not good.’’

Boeheim said freshman Taurean Thompson, a 6-10, 225-pounder who shot 1-for-6 and finished with four points and two rebounds, is the team’s best low-post player and just needs some experience. For now, Boeheim said, sophomore forward Tyler Lydon — who led all scorers with 18 points (5-for-12 from the field, 3-for-5 from three-point range) — is the team’s best center.

“Our best team is with Tyler Lydon at center,’’ Boeheim said. “And that’s what it’s going to be, unless we get more production there. I think that’s what I see right now. He’s our best center. He was our center last year. He played 30 minutes a game, he played 27 at center, and we got to the Final Four. There’s no question DaJuan and Paschal are not ready to play at this level — South Carolina’s a top-20 team, maybe better. Those two guys right now, they’re going to have to play better.’’

New York Sports