Syracuse defense rises as Orange beats Western Michigan 77-53
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney was mired in a shooting slump, and his woes coincided with a late-season swoon by the Orange.
Say goodbye to both.
Cooney scored 18 points, fellow guard Tyler Ennis had 16, and the Orange defense clamped down in a 77-53 victory over Western Michigan on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Cooney hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc and Ennis had six assists with one turnover to spark the Orange, who shot 28 of 57 (49.1 percent) from the field and hit 7 of 17 from long range.
"It was just good to see one go in," Cooney said. "It adds to your confidence a little bit, and I was able to get into a good rhythm and guys found me in good spots. The ball just went in today."
Since matching a school record with nine 3-pointers that keyed a six-point win over Notre Dame last month, Cooney had hit just 10 of 51 (19.6 percent) from beyond the arc. That abysmal shooting came during Syracuse’s swoon, which included a three-point loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament last week.
That’s all forgotten now.
"Same guy," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He’s just got to get his looks and take them. He’s definitely stayed up the whole time. He’s played the other parts of the game. It’s a big difference when he makes shots."
Syracuse (28-5), the third seed in the South Regional, will play 11th-seeded Dayton (24-10) on Saturday. Dayton beat Ohio State 60-59 on Thursday.
The Orange won their first 25 games and were ranked No. 1 for three weeks before losing five of seven in that late-season skid.
Western Michigan (23-10), the Mid-American Conference champion, had won 14 of 16 games and was in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.
The Orange forced 11 turnovers in the opening half and scored 13 points off them in running out to a double-digit lead before the midpoint of the period. Syracuse used an 18-4 spurt over 10 minutes to take control and led 40-21 at halftime.
The Broncos took care of the ball in the second half, losing it only twice, but the deficit was much too daunting to overcome as Syracuse dominated the glass 41-25 and scored 15 second-chance points.
"We ran into a buzz saw today," WMU coach Steve Hawkins said. "We made too many mistakes in the first half. We had 11 turnovers in the first half and that’s what staked them out to that lead. I felt like after we started taking care of the ball in the second half, we got a few better looks."
Jerami Grant finished with 16 points, while C.J. Fair, double- and triple-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Shayne Whittington and Tucker Haymond led Western Michigan with 11 points apiece. David Brown, the MAC scoring champion, finished with a season-low nine points on 2-of-12 shooting, 2 of 10 from long range.
Syracuse rode its defense to the Final Four a year ago and the zone was stellar from the opening tip against the Broncos.
The Broncos split two games with Eastern Michigan during the season, learning the nuances of the zone defense employed by Eagles coach Rob Murphy, an assistant at Syracuse for eight years before taking over at EMU.
"We hope it’s a help," Hawkins said.
Same system, maybe, but different personnel.
"They’re long and athletic, and they make you second-guess where you want to throw the ball," Brown said. "I feel that we were hesitant. We turned the ball over way too much."
The Syracuse defense had to focus on WMU’s fifth-year seniors Whittington and Brown and did the job. Whittington was hounded in the lane, unable to generate much, taking just seven shots. And while Brown was his usual self at the free throw line, he had only four chances, hitting three.
"We came out playing pressure defense," Fair said. "We weren’t going to let them get comfortable."
The Broncos committed four quick turnovers as Syracuse took a 7-2 lead on a 3-pointer by Cooney just over 3 minutes in.
Brown led the MAC at 19.4 points per game and earned MVP of the conference tournament after scoring a career-high 32 points that included five 3-pointers in the final against Toledo, and he makes a good living at the free throw line.
Brown was 196 of 254 (77.2 percent) from the line, most of the fouls coming while he was attempting one of the 237 shots he took from behind the arc. He found no room to roam against the Orange, missing three times from well beyond the 3-point line before finally hitting near the midpoint of the opening half.
Whittington is a hulking figure in the lane at 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, but Grant easily spun around him and slammed home a ferocious two-handed dunk to boost the Syracuse lead to 12-4.
Cooney’s second 3 and a layup by Ennis had the Broncos 13 points behind and reeling.
Fair’s three-point play and a 3-pointer from the wing by Ennis off a feed from Grant inside gave Syracuse a 31-13 lead with 4:08 to go in the half.
Whittington shook off a foul by Grant and hit a pretty hook in the lane that he turned into a three-point play and Brown followed with two free throws and his first 3 to give the Broncos a glimmer of hope.
Syracuse responded with a slam dunk by senior center Baye Moussa Keita, another 3 from Cooney, and a putback by Fair off a miss by Ennis to gain the 19-point halftime lead.
If the Broncos hoped to make a comeback in the second half, that idea was quickly squashed.
After a layup by Connar Tava — Grant was called for goaltending on the play — and a free throw by Haymond closed the gap to 16 points, Syracuse responded with an 8-2 spurt that Cooney started with a four-point play.