Strong defense powers SU past TCU in NCAA tourney opener
Cuse defense tops TCU in tournament opener
DETROIT–Marek Dolezaj found himself in a different position. With two seconds left on the shot clock, the freshman forward was outside the 3-point arc and had to get a shot off. He hadn’t hit a three since Nov. 10 in the home opener, but the Slovakian took a chance. That’s all he needed.
Dolezaj’s offense dominance with 17 points and a strong defensive performance by Syracuse made the difference during the Orange’s 57-52 win over Texas Christian University in the NCAA first round game.
Two days removed from its 60-56 win over Arizona State, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim saw the strong defense as the important factor in the team’s win over former Pitt coach Jamie Dixon.
“They didn’t get any easy shots the whole game,” Boeheim said. “And I thought that was the difference. We did a good job on the boards and didn’t turn the ball over.”
Defense won the game for Syracuse, however the focus offensively was on Syracuse forward Marek Dolezaj. A pass from Frank Howard found Dolezaj who laid the ball of the glass to take an early lead.
“I had a lot of free shots, that was the key,” Dolezaj said.
Boeheim praised the scoring from the freshman.
“You can’t play better than that as a freshman,” Boeheim said.
The Horned Frogs scored right away on a three-pointer from TCU guard Desmond Bane. Dolezaj scored six of the first 10 for Syracuse. TCU then scored two 3-pointers from freshman forward Kouat Noi to take an 11-10 lead.
As a team that average 8.5 made threes a game, it looked like they’d find early success from beyond the arc. Syracuse, allowing these looks due to missed slides through their 2-3 zone, locked down on that after a media timeout.
Howard opened his scoring account on an assist from Matthew Moyer, introduced to give Dolezaj a deserved rest. The Gahanna, Ohio, native though turned the ball over on two possessions, forcing Boeheim to insert Dolezaj back in with less rest than he may have hoped.
“I think it was a mental lapse on our players’ fault. We should have kept moving the ball,” Battle said.
A pair of free throws from Syracuse center Paschal Chukwu gave Syracuse its largest lead of the half at seven. Another basket from Dolezaj made it a 27-20 advantage for the Orange, but TCU took advantage of the media timeout and scored the final eight points of the half. The Horned Frogs found success within the Syracuse zone inside, scoring layups with Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky that gave TCU a 28-27 lead at halftime.
In the second half the Horned Frogs worked it in the paint. Brodzinasky, a 6-11 forward, muscled his way past Chukwu to give TCU a three-point lead. Oshae Brissett, who scored six points in the first half, grabbed the first Syracuse points of the second half on a midrange jumper.
Bourama Sidibe made efforts in the second half to become involved, and grabbed Syracuse a 38-37 lead with an offensive rebound and put back. The center finished the game with four points in eight minutes.
Dolezaj, on 17 points, was on four fouls midway through the second half forcing the Slovakian to play reserved defense. Strong Orange defense led to Howard scoring a three to give Syracuse a four point lead.
“We just wanted to stay poised down the stretch. We didn’t want to get frustrated or start to force anything,” Howard said.
The Orange did not allow TCU to retake the lead in the final eleven minutes despite losing Dolezaj to a fifth foul. This came in part to Moyer’s defense down the stretch.
The most influential moment for Moyer may have come in the final seconds. The Orange zone forced TCU into eight threes, four coming in the final three minutes. Brissett stepped up late for Syracuse, driving inside and getting points in the paint.
“We go with Oshae a lot late in the games because we think he can get to the foul line,” Boeheim said.
With Syracuse up 54-50 with less than a minute, TCU guard Alex Robinson was at the line to make it a one possession game. His free throw missed, and a loose ball ended up in Moyer’s hands. Shooting 55.6 percent on the season and 0-1 from the line in the game, he made the first shot to increase the Orange lead to five.
A deep prayer from Robinson went unanswered, and two Chukwu free throws made it a 57-50 game until Robinson’s jumper as time expired made the score 57-52.
TCU went 0-8 on 3-pointers in the second half and shot 34.8 percent from the field due to Syracuse’s difficult defense.
“The field goal percentage, obviously 34 in the second half, that’s going to get you in trouble,” TCU coach Dixon said.
Boeheim praised his team’s defense, knowing it has been a strength for them during parts of this season.
“This was just a defensive game. Our defense was — we didn’t give them good looks from the 3-point line. And then at the very end of the game, when you’re trying to shoot a 3-pointer, it’s really hard to make one when you haven’t made any during the game,” Boeheim said.
Syracuse’s journey in the NCAA Tournament continues Sunday when they play Michigan State. The game starts at 2:40 p.m. in Detroit.