The Syracuse men’s basketball team (19-15) lost to the Ole Miss Rebels, 85-80, in the second round of the NIT Tournament, ending a disappointing season that had high expectations at the start following a run to the Final Four in 2016. The Orange had an off shooting night and could not stop Ole Miss sophomore guard Terence Davis, who scored 30 points on 11-14 shooting.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim pointed out that the Orange defense was not good enough all game and throughout the season.
"This game was really a microcosm of our season,” Boeheim said. “We fight hard, we battle, but when our shots aren’t going, we aren’t able to stop the other team's shooters.”
Syracuse’s poor shooting day was particularly prevalent in the first half from the 3-point line. Syracuse missed all of its 3-point shots in the first 13 minutes of the game, going 0-9 from downtown and 8-23 from the field. It took a Frank Howard 3-pointer with 6:53 left in the first half before Syracuse was able to get on track.
Syracuse’s Taurean Thompson was one of the few bright spots offensively in the middle of the first half. Thompson had a key spell midway through the period when he scored a bucket, forced a steal and then came back with another bucket to keep Syracuse within a possession and stopped the momentum of Ole Miss. The freshman finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-11 shooting.
Syracuse eventually made a 12-0 run that gave it a nine-point lead. However, Ole Miss rallied and cut its deficit to 38-36 at the half.
Ole Miss continued its hot start in the second half with three straight 3-pointers to take a 45-38 lead. The Rebels controlled most of the second half and forced Syracuse to constantly play catch up. Syracuse stayed in the game through the play of freshman guard Tyus Battle.
After failing to score in the first half, Battle kept his composure and added 17 points in the second half, using a combination of aggressively driving to the hoop and knocking down 3-pointers.
“I think at the beginning of the season I got down on myself when I missed shots, stuff like that, I wasn’t aggressive,” Battle said. “But as the season went on the coaches gave me more confidence to be aggressive and play my game. I think that’s what I grew the most in.”
Syracuse’s best chance at winning the game came after Battle made a huge jumper to bring it to 83-80 with 37 seconds remaining. But, Ole Miss converted its free throws and Syracuse could not find a way to tie the score in the last seconds.
Syracuse had its chances to win, spending most of the last four minutes within a possession of Ole Miss. However, even though four of the five Syracuse starters finished with 15 points or more, the team could not overcome the inconsistent shooting and lack of defense that has hurt them all year.
After the game, the SU players acknowledged that the season had been a disappointment and that they did not fulfill the team goals of being part of the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse senior Andrew White III was proud of the team, but admitted that their play as a whole throughout the season was not good enough.
“We just didn’t maximize our potential,” White said. “Tonight’s game was the story of our season. I’m sure that’s what coach said in his presser, but you have to defend.”