Orange lose shooting touch in Sweet 16 defeat

Syracuse loses shooting touch in Sweet 16 defeat

The No. 11 Orange struggle to replicate their offensive success in a 62-46 loss against the No. 2 Cougars.
Published: March 28, 2021
Syracuse vs Houston
Syracuse plays Houston in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Syracuse’s underdog run through the NCAA Tournament came to an end against the brick wall defense of the Houston Cougars, 62-46. A win would have advanced the Orange to the Elite Eight for the first time since their Final Four appearance in 2016.

Buddy Boeheim came back down to earth after a stellar first two games of the tournament and a strong ACC tournament. He scored 12 points, but it took him 13 shots to do so as he shot 23% from the floor and 11% from three.

The offensive glass was a nightmare all evening for the Orange as the Cougars grabbed 11 to their six. Overall, SU lost the rebounding battle 40-31.

The Cougars rank top five in the nation in every defensive category, and their prowess was too great for SU to overcome. As a team, Syracuse made just 14 baskets on 28% from the field.

After the game, head coach Jim Boeheim praised the stalwart defense of the Cougars.

“I thought Houston was incredible defensively,” Boeheim said. “Their defense was just too much for us. It’s the best defense we’ve seen this year, and they deserved to win.”

The Orange knocked down 29 3-pointers in their first two games of the tournament, the third most all time, but their hot shooting was nowhere to be found early in the game. Boeheim hit the first shot of the game for ‘Cuse, but it took nearly four minutes. Houston quickly jumped out to a 10-2 lead, which was the largest deficit the Orange faced to that point.

Rebounding became an early issue as the Cougars led 14-6 on the glass overall and 5-0 on the offensive end. Quincy Guerrier added a triple, but SU was quickly overwhelmed 15-5 nearing the midway point of the first half.

Jesse Edwards took the floor for the Orange, moving Marek Dolezaj out of the center spot, and the 2-3 zone immediately responded. The easy looks in the paint were no longer available, and Houston hit a slow patch of scoring. SU capitalized with an 10-0 run to cut the lead to 17-15.

During the run, Kadary Richmond drove the lane, faked a layup and slipped a no-look pass between two defenders to set Guerrier up for a strong two-handed jam. The Orange calmed their early jitters, but a 1/8 start from behind the arc limited their offense.

The 6’11’’ frame of Edwards complicated the Cougar’s game plan. He deflected two passes that no other player on the court could have reached, and his traps on ball handlers helped create blocked shots for the entire team.

Boeheim tied the game at 20 after knocking down all three free throws on a fouled 3-pointer, and Edwards continued to dominate on the other end with strong rebounding and another block.

When Edwards went to the bench near the end of the first, the Cougars pounced and got back to the paint. To close the half, Houston went on a 10-0 run to lead 30-20. SU was +4 in point differential with him on the floor and -14 without.

Syracuse vs Houston
Syracuse plays Houston in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Orange never shook their shooting demons through the first 20 minutes. On Saturday, teams vying for the Elite Eight shot below 25% from three, and ‘Cuse didn’t help the cause as they went just 1/10.

Another disparity came in the way of ball movement. Houston picked up 10 assists in the first to a measly two for SU.

The second half opened with Edwards riding the pine, and the ‘Cuse defense suffered. Joe Girard III hit the team’s second three, but the Cougars re-extended the lead to 12.

Four minutes in, Edwards emerged and made an instant impact. A ball was tossed into the rafters in an attempt to save Houston’s possession, but Edwards jumped up to secure possession for the Orange. On the other end, Boeheim found his stroke and hit his first three in five tries to cut the score to 39-32.

Richmond, another bench contributor, added a three to breathe life into the offense. As the eight minute mark passed in the second half, SU still trailed by six.

Foul trouble helped keep the Orange afloat as they entered the bonus with more than nine minutes remaining. Four Cougars had three fouls and their lineup changed accordingly.

Rebounding and defense once again became a problem with Edwards off the court, but the team needed an offensive punch from behind the arc that he and Dolezaj do not provide. With Dolezaj as the lone non-shooter on the court, SU tried to score their way back into the game, but lapses defensively made a comeback impossible.

In the postgame press conference, Dolezaj praised the team despite the losing effort.

“This team has a lot of heart and a lot of pride,” Dolezaj said. “It was a rollercoaster season. We gave it everything we could.”

The Orange suffered numerous scoring droughts throughout the game, none more costly than the final minutes of play. Girard got himself to 12 points with his second three, but a Cougar run ended the game 62-46.

A victory would have advanced the Orange to the Elite Eight where they would have met No. 12 seeded Oregon State in the Midwest Region. The matchup would have had Syracuse as an improbable favorite for the first time in the tournament.

The loss ends the season for the Orange, who will fly back to campus from Indianapolis as the NCAA Tournament marches on. Despite the loss, Jim Boeheim was overwhelmingly positive about the team’s season.

“It was difficult for everybody, but we’ve gotten through it,” Boeheim said. “This is one of the best years I’ve had coaching. I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team than I am this team. Period.”

Avatar for Henry Sutter

is a magazine, news and online graduate student and lead sports producer for The NewsHouse.