SUrvive and Advance
Syracuse upsets Michigan State to advance to Sweet 16
DETROIT — Seven days ago, Syracuse didn’t know what its fate would be in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Three wins later, the Orange found the answer in its defense who propelled the team into to the Sweet 16.
Sunday’s game against No. 3 Michigan State may not have been pretty by most accounts, but No. 11 Syracuse’s defense came through again, stopping the Spartans on the final possessions to win 55-53.
“This team perseveres through no matter what happens,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said.
Syracuse and Michigan State have a history in the big dance, with Spartans head coach Tom Izzo out-dueling Jim Boeheim on the Spartans way to the 2000 national title. Eighteen years later, these teams met Sunday with a chance to play the Duke Blue Devils on Friday in Omaha.
Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj continued his hot scoring from the opening round win over Texas Christian early in the first half, knocking in a deep jump shot for the Orange’s first two points of the game. Dolezaj and Oshae Brissett led the way at the start of the game for Syracuse, scoring eight of the opening 10 points.
It took some time, but the Spartans were able to score some points by working around the Syracuse 2-3 zone. While the Orange limited Michigan State to 5 of 19 from outside, they were able to power inside with forwards Xavier Tillman and Nick Ward.
“I think we got some great looks, some shots that we usually knock down,” Michigan State guard Cassius Winston said.
The season leading scorers for both teams, Syracuse’s Tyus Battle and Michigan State’s Miles Bridges, remained quiet in the first half. Battle grabbed his sole point on a free throw, while Bridges was only able to score one of his six 3-point attempts.
“We just couldn’t get inside as much as we wanted to because the zone is so long, but we just missed shots,” Bridges said.
A topic of conversation before the game was how Syracuse’s centers would do with the physical and strong frontcourt. Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe picked up fouls in all types of ways, including not setting offensive screens and from offensive fouls under the Michigan State hoop. Michigan State had the advantage with offensive rebounds too, 12-1 over the Orange.
Boeheim knew his team would be outrebounded and outmuscled on the boards, and made sure his chances counted.
“We knew they were going to get us on the boards,” Boeheim said. “They really got us on the boards.”
The score was tied at 22 with seconds to go in the first half. Spartans forward Matt McQuaid had his shot blocked at the arc by Syracuse’s Matthew Moyer but grabbed the ball in the air and threw it up. It sank through, much to the disbelief of Boeheim.
“That’s an impossible shot,” Boeheim said.
The second half started with the Spartans scoring two straight 3-pointers, including one from close to 30-feet away to give Michigan State at 33-25 lead.
This didn’t affect the Orange offense, which continued to force the ball inside with drives and give opportunities to Battle and Brissett.
This new sense of aggression led to points as SU clawed back in the game.
“I mean, every time we step up on the floor we don’t care who is on the floor with us,” Battle said. “We’re expecting to win the game.”
Howard joined the four-foul club with 6:36 remaining. On the next possession, he tried to grab the ball on a 50-50. The whistle blew, and he spent the rest of the game on the bench.
“Tried to stick my nose in there a few times, grab a few. Calls didn’t go my way,” Howard said.
Guard Braedon Bayer made his NCAA Tournament debut for the Orange and was a linchpin in the 2-3 zone. He grabbed a loose ball to make a Spartan rebound into a jump ball, which made his fellow guards happy.
“Braedon came in, stuck his nose in there, got a big rebound,” Howard said.
A Winston jumper made it a 5-point Spartans lead, but free throws and close jump shots led to Syracuse taking a 50-48 lead with four minutes remaining.
Both teams followed up with two minutes of empty possessions until Tillman hit one of two to cut the deficit to one.
With less than a minute left, Battle took possession and found a pairing he liked. He drove left, stepped back and drained a jump shot to increase the lead to 52-49. Bridges missed two 3-pointers as the teams traded free throws for the remaining seconds, with McQuaid and Winston scoring both and Battle scoring a pair in between.
Chukwu was fouled with two seconds remaining and went to the line, up 54-53. He drained his first, and his second hit off the rim and bounced out. The ball fell to Joshua Langford, who dribbled left and his heave bounced off the backboard.
“We know we’re a defensive-minded team, and we’re only going to win games as long as our defense is moving,” Battle said.
That’s exactly what happened as Michigan State finished 8-37 from 3-point range and scored 25.8 percent of their shots.
“They played hard also, and I thought it was just a war of a game and they made a few more shots than we did,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
In another defensive match up, Syracuse outlasted another offensive team.
“Out defense has been good this whole tournament all the way. It’s obviously been the key for us,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse faces familiar foe Duke in the NCAA Sweet 16 round on Friday, March 23. The Blue Devils beat the Orange 60-44 on Feb. 24.