Syracuse storms into the NCAA Tournament with opening round beatdown

SU storms NCAA Tournament with opening round beatdown

Buddy Boeheim pours in 30 as the Orange take down SDSU 78-62 with smothering defense.
Published: March 19, 2021
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - First Round
Buddy Boeheim's second straight 30+ point game led the Orange over the San Diego State Aztecs in Friday's NCAA tournament first round.

Syracuse opened the NCAA tournament with an eye-opening victory over sixth-seeded San Diego State University, 78-62. In a true defensive masterpiece, the 11th-seeded Orange held the Aztecs scoreless for more than 10 minutes to close the first half, effectively ending the game.

Buddy Boeheim led the way for the Orange with 30 points, and Marek Dolezaj and Joe Girard III combined for 12 assists. Syracuse advances with the win and will face No. 3 seed West Virginia on Sunday at 5:15 p.m.

In the opening minutes of the tournament, both teams needed to shake off considerable rust after watching other teams play for the nine hours before their game, and the Orange last played eight days prior in the ACC Tournament.

The teams combined to 4-of-17 to start the game to the tune of a 6-4 lead for Syracuse. Dolezaj opened the scoring for ‘Cuse with a crafty left-handed finish for an and-one. On the other end of the floor, two SU players crashed the boards for a block, but Dolezaj was credited for the swat.

Both defenses were playing well, but players on both sides were missing open shots until Buddy Boeheim launched a missile from five feet beyond the arc to start his scoring.

Just as Buddy Boeheim started to heat up, the SDSU players found their rhythm from three. After a string of misses, they buried three in a row to take a 15-10 lead nearing the halfway mark of the half.

Not to be outdone, Buddy Boeheim scored 16 straight points for SU to take the lead 19-18. He kissed a floater high off the glass, hit multiple jumpers and finished a four-point play on another deep three to keep the defense guessing.

In the postgame press conference, head coach Jim Boeheim spoke about his son’s performance and the team’s victory.

“Things went our way tonight,” Jim Boeheim said. “It didn’t look like we could stop them early, but Buddy kept us in it. I never had one of those games, so I don’t know how it feels, but the basket looks wide. Then our defense was the difference. It was a real good defensive for us.”

Nearing the end of the first half, Robert Braswell and Girard broke a 16:57 stretch where the only member of the Orange to score was Buddy Boeheim. Capping off an 11-0 run, they both splashed 3-pointers to extend the lead, 25-18.

The ‘Cuse defense smothered the Aztecs, holding them scoreless for nearly ten minutes. Kadary Richmond punctuated the Orange’s tenacious defensive mentality with a hustling block pinned to the glass and knocked out of bounds.

All the momentum in the Hinkle Fieldhouse was with the Orange at the end of the first half. San Diego State missed 12 straight field goals and 10 straight threes as they shot just 22.6 percent from the field on the half.

Girard added a four-point play of his own as he was knocked to the floor. On his way down the court, he looked to the crowd in Indianapolis and waved his arms to drum up support. The Orange scored the last 18 points of the half and sprinted into the locker room up 32-18.

With their heads hung low, the deflated Aztecs headed to the locker room without any answers for Syracuse’s zone defense. Teams outside of the ACC face zones less frequently, and the Orange held them completely in check outside of a run of streaky three-point shooting early in the half.

Loyola Chicago v Georgia Tech
Buddy Boeheim (#35) of the Syracuse Orange shoots the ball against the San Diego State Aztecs during the first half in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday.

To open the second frame, Dolezaj spun off of his defender and hit a post fade to widen the lead. SDSU responded with a 3-pointer to end their scoring drought at 10:30, but Boeheim came off a screen with a quick release to answer with a triple of his own.

The Orange jumped out to their lead without any points from Alan Griffin or Quincy Guerrier, but the latter got to the rim for a jam a few minutes into the second. He would knock down one of two free throws soon after bringing the tally to 40-27.

SDSU began to find a rhythm driving to the basket, but Boeheim stopped their run in its tracks. He hit consecutive quick-release threes, his sixth in seven tries, to widen the gap to 17 points.

When asked what he says to Boeheim during games, head coach Jim Boeheim described a unique coaching strategy for his star guard.

” I don’t talk to Buddy during the games,” Boeheim said. “He knows what to do. I’ve talked to Buddy his whole life. I don’t need to talk to him during the games.”

Jesse Edwards got in on the action with a rim-rattling block, the Orange’s fourth of the game, to help keep the Aztecs down. The lead widened to 19 off a Richmond jumper, which was SDSU’s largest deficit of the season.

The Orange poured in more threes to effectively end the game, 56-30, with more than nine minutes still remaining. During their best run, SU outscored SDSU 42-12.

From the top of the key, Dolezaj went to work on his defender, lulling the rest of the Aztecs to sleep as Braswell cut to the rim. Dolezaj hit him with a perfectly placed pass to further decimate SDSU’s tournament appearance.

With just over six minutes remaining, Boeheim gave the crowd something to cheer about during the blowout as he splashed a three from the edge of the logo as the shot clock expired. The Aztecs, finally awake, dropped three straight threes, but their late shooting was not enough to overcome an abysmal offensive night.

Despite entering the game in the starting rotation, Griffin never got on the board and only played 15 minutes in the game. Braswell primarily filled his role, scoring nine points on five shots.

To keep the lead at 20 late in the half, Boeheim got to 30 points on a jumper. His impressive night raised him ahead of his father, Jim Boeheim, in NCAA Tournament scoring for the Orange.

When asked postgame what it was like to play in the tournament under his father, Boeheim spoke about his first round performance.

“It means a lot to me,” Boeheim said. “Wearing these jerseys, playing for these fans — the best fans in the world. I don’t care how many points I score. I just wanted to win, and we did that.”

Cuse held on to win 78-62, advancing them to the round of 32 to face West Virginia at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, March 21. The win marked the first tournament win for the Orange since advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2018. Coincidentally, SU was an eleventh seed both times.