Syracuse, Kansas State looking for Sweet 16 berth
In an era when college basketball is dominated by freshmen and sophomores, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim knows he needs his two seniors to step up to keep winning in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State, the team the Orange will face Saturday in the third round of the East Regional, will need another big contribution from a freshman point guard to advance.
Both teams, though, will need better shooting to make it to the tournament's second week.
Syracuse joined a list of No. 1 seeds who have been scared in the first round by a No. 16 seed, but the Orange used a late 8-0 run, big plays and free throws from seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine in the final 4 minutes to beat North Carolina-Asheville 72-65 on Thursday.
Eighth-seeded Kansas State overcame a rough first half offensively to beat No. 9 Southern Mississippi 70-64, a win that was sealed when freshman point guard Angel Rodriguez took over in the final 2 minutes.
The winner advances to face the winner of the Vanderbilt-Wisconsin game on Thursday, in Boston.
''It's important for all of our players to play well. It's certainly important for our two seniors,'' Boeheim said Friday referring to Joseph and Jardine. ''They've set the tempo for the year. When they played well, we've had big games. It's important for them to play well.
''It doesn't always translate into scoring a lot, but they need to play well, they really do. Rebound, defense, make plays, you know, we need those two guys to do that.''
Joseph, the leading scorer for the Orange's balanced offense with a 13.8 average, and Jardine, who averages 8.4 points, both have other important roles with the team. Joseph averages 5 rebounds, with which the ineligibility of starting center Fab Melo, is now second on the team. Jardine directs the offense and leads the way with 4.8 assists per game.
The two have been the leaders of the team that set a school record with 32 wins this season against just two losses. This will be their ninth NCAA tournament game and they are 2-1 in games that mean a berth in the regional semifinals.
Joseph and Jardine got to work on their skills at being team veterans when the Orange were down 34-30 at halftime against Asheville.
''For us, myself and Kris being leaders, we got to go out there and pick it up,'' Jardine said. ''That's the thing about basketball, there's always two halves. We just have to believe in each other. Things work out fine. We've done that all year. We've been in tough games all year. We were able to come back and win a lot of big games.
''Nothing to be sad (about). Just continue to play basketball, take it one play at a time, not try to get everything on one play, and I think that's how you come back from deficits.''
The Orange (32-2) have faced more deficits in the latter part of the season because the offense has tailed off lately. Coming into the NCAA tournament, Syracuse, which is averaging 74.5 points per game, broke the 70-point mark just twice in the last seven games. The Orange shot better than 46.5 percent from the field - their mark for the season - only once, and the stretch included 3-point performances of 1 for 15, 5 for 20 and 3 for 14. Against Asheville, they shot 44.6 percent overall, 5 for 23 on 3s and that included making one of their first 13.
''Us being the senior leaders on the team, the team goes as we go,'' Joseph said. ''We definitely have to get off to faster starts. We both had a slow first half, and we kind of picked it up in the second. We can't allow that to happen as we advance in the tournament.
''We got to bring it for 40 minutes. The guys are looking to us to bring that intensity and bring that sense of urgency to the basketball game on both ends of the floor.
''That's definitely something we spoke about after the basketball game, both Scoop and I. We'll both be able to bring it for 40 minutes against Kansas State.''
Kansas State (22-10) got 30 points from Rodney McGruder against Southern Mississippi but Rodriguez scored seven of his 13 points over the final 2:10.
The native of Puerto Rico is averaging 8.2 points and 3.3 assists for the Wildcats. He'll be going against Jardine for the most part, even though Syracuse will be playing its famed 2-3 zone.
''He's a grown man. He's a veteran,'' Rodriguez said. ''He obviously has experience - a lot more than what I do. But doesn't mean I'm not going to battle, I'm not going to play hard. You know, I got to respect him, but I still got to do my job.''
Kansas State coach Frank Martin will keep the ball in Rodriguez's hands.
''When you go through the season, you don't get to this moment and doubt your players when they make a mistake. There's a reason you go through the gauntlet of your season, so you learn who you can trust and who you can't trust,'' he said. ''I'm not nervous about Angel. I'm not nervous about our team. Those things are over with.''
Kansas State is looking to advance to the regional semifinals for the second time in three years. The Wildcats lost to Butler in the regional final in 2010.
McGruder, a junior, was on that team, which was led by Jacob Pullen.
''It is a role that we can help the younger guys, the guys that never been here before. We can teach them what the older guys taught us, like what Jake taught us when we came here,'' he said. ''We can try to share the experience with them, stay the course, you know, let's get through it together. Not one player can go out there and beat Syracuse. Just stay the course and stay together.''
These schools met once in the NCAA tournament, with Syracuse prevailing 95-87 in overtime to advance to the Final Four in 1975.