Hit or Miss Season for Syracuse Ends with Ole Miss, 85-80
Published on March 18, 2017
Story and photos by Jon Cerio
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — An up-and-down season for Syracuse basketball ended on another down note Saturday in the Carrier Dome, as the University of Mississippi upended the top-seeded Orange in the second round of the NIT, 85-80. In a constant for Syracuse this season, the defense was picked apart by sharp shooting opponents on the perimeter.
“This game is really a microcosm of our season,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We fight hard, we battle. When our shots aren’t going, we aren’t able to stop the other team’s shooters.
The 9,556 in attendance saw Syracuse end the year one win shy of Boeheim’s 37th 20-win season.
Center of Attention
The Orange started the game much the way it has all season – with Taurean Thompson. The freshman center gave SU the early 2-0 lead with one of his eight field goals in only eleven attempts. He had 18 points in the game, tied for a team-high with Andrew White.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a freshman center that was that good right away, not once,” Boeheim said. “He’s a very creative offensive player and defensively in the second half tonight, he was much better.”
Syracuse held a narrow margin for the first 4:22 on baskets from Thompson, Tyler Lydon and John Gillon. At 15:38, Rasheed Brooks nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 10. It was Brooks’ only field goal of the game, but just the beginning of the Rebels’ onslaught from deep.
Tyler Roberson and Deandre Burnett traded baskets, before Neal Cullen sank the second of 15 threes for Ole Miss on the day. The Rebels nursed the lead for the better part of four minutes, until Lydon scored inside., making it 18-17 Orange.
“They shot 15-for-32, and they’re good shooters, but nobody’s that good,” Boeheim said. “We have to get up and make them change the shot. We didn’t do that.”
Forwards and Backwards
In what may end up being Lydon’s last game in an Orange uniform, he put up a strong performance, particulary in the first half. At the intermission, the forward had ten points and seven boards, winding up with a double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The teams went back and forth, with four ties and three lead changes after the Lydon make, until the 6:30 mark at 25-25.
Game of Runs
From there the Orange went on a 9-0 run over the next 3:52. Frank Howard put up four points in the stretch, and Lydon added a three and a baseline jam to get the fans pumped up.
Terrence Davis broke the run for the Rebels with a layup. He converted on 5-8 field goals and eleven points in the first half, then exploded in the second.
With 1:04 left on the clock in the first, Syracuse had a 38-30 lead. Then Deandre Burnett happened. He drained back-to-back threes, one at the buzzer, to cut the lead to 38-36 at the half.
It was a sloppy first 20 minutes of action, with six Ole Miss turnovers, and four for Syracuse. On the whole, there were six ties and six lead changes in the opening stanza.
After 40 and 34 point outings for Andrew White in his last two games, he had five points at halftime – all from the free throw line.
The Rebels picked up where they left off at the close of the first half. Davis and Burnett hit consecutive triples for Ole Miss, forcing an Orange timeout. It was 42-38 Rebels after less than two minutes of play in the second half.
Davis hit another one from deep, giving him 17 points at that point. He finished an impressive 11-14 from the field, with 30 points.
SU answered with a 6-0 run of its own, including a Thompson jumper, and layups from Battle and White. It was 45-44 Rebels with 15:34 to play.
After a Sebastian Saiz layup put Ole Miss up by three, Tyus Battle came back down the court and tied things up from downtown. 19 seconds later, Cullen Neal answered in kind with a three, one of his three makes from deep.
Ole Miss worked its lead up to five, not allowing the Orange to creep back within more than three points. That is, until Tyus Battle went baseline with a monster jam, making it 54-53.
Answering the Call
Seemingly with every big make for the Orange, the Rebels answered immediately from deep.
After the Battle slam, Davis drained another three. After a big Thompson basket inside, it was Davis with another three. It was 61-55 with 9:58 remaining.
Battle answered with five straight points, cutting the lead to a single point. Right on cue, Davis hit again from deep. Battle returned fire with a three of his own – which was answered with a Burnett inside score.
White on Time
Ole Miss held onto the lead until the 4:14 mark, in the middle of Andrew White’s hot streak. He drained three from behind-the-arc, his second tying the game at 71.
Again, the Rebels answered from deep with Cullen Neal. White’s third three in a row tied things back up at 74 with 3:40 remaining.
“The threes that Andrew hit at the end were tougher than the ones he had missed, for the most part,” Boeheim said. “He had a bad day and we could have overcome that if we had played a little bit of defense and we didn’t.”
Syracuse never got the lead. A Burnett three and a Saiz dunk made it 79-75. Thompson went inside with the slam to cut it to two and Lydon added a free throw to trim it to one.
Like clockwork, Burnett came back with a dagger of a three, putting the Rebels up four with 1:22 remaining.
There were some questioned calls down the stretch. Battle was called for two straight fouls in the press that looked to some in the Dome as near Rebel turnovers. Fans booed loudly at the officials, questioning their agenda.
Ole Miss outlasted Syracuse at the free throw line down the stretch, and pulled out the 85-80 victory. With the win, Ole Miss improved to 22-13 on the year, and faces the winner of Georgia Tech and Belmont in the third round of the NIT.
Syracuse ended its year on a sour note, with a record of 19-15. Still, there were some positive takeaways from Boeheim and the players.
“It’s a season where we did some great things,” Boeheim said. “We fought our way from the bottom of the league to start out, to the middle of the best league in the country. We tied for seventh (after) being in a bad place and this team fought back.”
“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” Tyus Battle said. “We had a lot of ups and downs this season, but we kept on fighting and that’s what I love about this team. We just had a a lot of heart and we had a lot of fight in us.”
There are uncertainties for next season. It remains to be seen whether Lydon will return for his junior season. It’s also a possibility that Battle could look to go pro as well.
It is certain that White, Gillon, Tyler Roberson and the often-injured DaJuan Coleman are out of eligibility.
Boeheim hasn’t confirmed that he plans to be back as scheduled for one final year next season either, though he sounded as if he is planning on it.
“We’ve got some work to do, and we’d like to bring someone in so we’ll see what happens,” Boeheim said. “I like the three guys we have commitments from. I think we’ll try to find somebody else. But, we’ll see what happens. We’ve got some good young players, we just have to get some help for them, especially inside. I think the guys we have coming will help us.”