It was a slog, but the Syracuse Orange upset the TCU Horned Frogs, 57-52. The zone held TCU 12 points below their previous scoring low this season and advanced further in the big dance than Virginia’s pack-line.
“The better you are, the more (the tournament) breaks your heart ... I’ve been there,” Jim Boeheim said after catching UVA’s loss just prior to his win.
This game’s limited offensive highlights occurred above the rim, but Marek Dolezaj won it by stepping far away from it.
Boeheim had put a cap on his range earlier in the season, but with 6:09 remaining in the first half Dolezaj stepped behind the arc on the right wing for only his second three-point field goal of the year.
He scored 17 points on 8-of-13 shooting, hit three shots beyond the intermediate ceiling Boeheim put on his jump shot. He shattered it, even breaking out a jab-step in the right corner to create driving space.
“He made some really hard shots,” Boeheim said. “He was unbelievable today, you can’t play better than that as a freshman.”
The spacing Dolezaj created persisted after he fouled out with over six minutes remaining, and Oshae Brissett finished with a string of dribble drives.
The Horned Frogs crafted two early threes for Kouat Noi, by shifting the zone to the left, then collapsing it inside as he knocked down two shots in the right corner.
Tyus Battle scrambled to reach him, isolated on the right side of the zone by himself. But, even with open attempts available the rest of the night, TCU never hit another three from 12:27 in the first half on. Boeheim called that luck.
TCU shot 0-of-8 in the second half from beyond the arc.
“They didn’t get any easy shots the whole game and that was the difference,” Boeheim said.
That monumental cold spell outside allowed SU to carry a commanding presence over the interior and a steady one-possession lead for most of the game. As TCU drilled three early threes, turnovers crept nearby, undermining their offensive effort.
Matthew Moyer entered and Syracuse pushed a 4-0 run after, with Frank Howard driving and dumping to Brissett for two then hitting his own. But, holding a 3-0 edge in turnovers, Moyer tossed a pass away and dribbled out the shot clock in the corner the next possession. Boeheim yanked him and hesitated to use him from that point on. Later, he’d be forced to.
Beside a botched coverage by Moyer on the baseline, Syracuse clamped down and held the Frogs scoreless for four straight minutes midway through the first half. Dolezaj uplifted Syracuse with a floater from Battle, then he hit a three he tossed up at the end of the shot clock after Howard swung it to him.
SU led 23-16, and Dolezaj reached 13 points soon after by cleaning up a Brissett miss inside, his highest scoring total outside of his ACC Tournament 20-point masterpiece.
Syracuse controlled the first 19 minutes, but as always their success was a fragile monument that collapsed when Desmond Bane jumped to the rim with Brissett as the final seconds of the half ticked away.
Howard was running past half court and threw an alley-oop that nearly touched the ceiling, Brissett caught it at the rim, but Bane met him there and swatted the dunk attempt away in midair.
TCU out here stopping alley-oops and then showing you how they're really done. pic.twitter.com/sujqEMjuoG— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 17, 2018
“You have to know you have it,” Boeheim said, digging into Howard for pushing the pace.
Alex Robinson immediately tossed Kenrich Williams a lob from the same spot, that he softly floated in for his second straight make at the rim. With one second remaining, Williams returned inside, scoring through a foul on a pass inside from Robinson.
Williams’ three straight makes, the ridiculous stuff by Bane sandwiched in between, shot TCU ahead 28-27. As Dolezaj hit six of his first eight, the Orange only got 3-of-18 first-half shooting from Brissett and Battle.
“We completely screwed up the end of the first half,” Boeheim said. “It was a really bad clock management situation.”
Brissett escaped his slump first, slashing on the baseline to send his defender backward before he drilled a 15-footer and ended a 0-of-10 stretch. Vladimir Brodziansky, who led TCU’s offense, poured two shots inside through scrambles around Pachal Chukwu, but Robinson got stuffed inside by him possessions later.
Howard, who had just been trapped at the other end, got the ball back and lifted Dolezaj back to the rim with an alley-oop across half court, this time converted fully.
Dolezaj pulled out his jab-step in the corner, created space along the baseline for himself to drive and finished inside. Syracuse led 34-33, before Battle emerged with a three on a swing from Howard.
Syracuse’s spacing, after Dolezaj’ onslaught, visibly opened into the second half. A few possessions later, Dolezaj responded to Williams’ massive put-back slam by once again possessing the ball in the right corner and finding Brissett through an open lane up the middle. Brissett missed at the rim, but Bourama Sidibe followed behind for two.
Howard made his own three from Battle next, Noi split a pair of free throws (TCU shot 64 percent at the line) then the Frogs entered a tailspin offensively again with over 6:30 of no made field goals. SU still only led 42-40 out of the stretch, but time was running out for TCU to fire up its offense that never would.
Brissett stepped up, drilling an off-balance layup on the right side off glass, then Dolezaj fouled out reaching in for a loose ball. Over six minutes remained, and he led Syracuse’s scoring attack at that point. Moyer returned for the first time since his first half struggles.
The Orange held on anyway. Brissett nailed a three, then finished again inside. Brodziansky hit a pair of twos shot for TCU, but Chukwu converted two shots at the line (6-6 in the game). As Williams poured back a missed three by Bane, wide open, TCU rallied back within one.
Over two minutes remained, Moyer missed his one-and-one try, but Bane tossed a pass off Battle’s fingertips back into Moyer’s hands, a 12th turnover that sealed their fate.
With the lane still open for drives, Battle and Howard drove back-to-back with floaters and secured victory.
“We would like to score a little more than that,” Battle said. “When Frank, Oshae and I struggle to score the ball like that and we still come out with a win ... Marek played huge tonight.”
Syracuse will see one more game this season, fresh off another upset, in a tournament they upset the nation to break into. They’ll play Michigan State at 2:40 on Sunday, the program they avoided on their 2016 run that’s even better this year (10th in offense, 11th in defense according to KenPom) searching for a miracle.
This season already feels like one.