The Syracuse Orange started their journey in the NCAA tournament with a first-round matchup against the San Diego State Aztecs. What was marketed as a defense affair turned into an offensive showcase for Buddy Boeheim. He dropped a game-high 30 points as the Aztecs couldn’t figure out the zone, leading to a 78-62 win for the Orange.
Defense ruled the first minutes of the game with both teams trying to formulate a game plan on offense. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone invited San Diego State to shoot threes, but the Aztecs couldn’t capitalize on their early looks. The Aztecs used their strong man defense to force isolation plays and bad shots from the Orange.
The game broke open as soon as Buddy Boeheim took his first shot. He popped a contested three from the right elbow that went through the net. That set the tone for Syracuse’s offense in the middle of the first half. After Marek Dolezaj scored the first three points of the game for the Orange, Boeheim accounted for the following 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
However, Boeheim picked up a second foul and Syracuse needed to get scoring from elsewhere. That’s where Joe Girard showed up as he started finding open threes late in the quarter to supplement the Orange offense in the absence of Boeheim. Girard had 10 first half points. He played a big role in leading a Syracuse 18-0 run heading into halftime.
A big reason for that huge run was the 2-3 zone. San Diego State continued to attempt to fire threes over the Syracuse zone. While the Aztecs found some good shots, they couldn’t effectively get the ball into the high post without pressure. That forced San Diego State to attempt more threes, and the Aztecs went cold from the floor. San Diego State was 7-of-31 (22.6%) from the floor and 3-of-20 (15%) from deep in the first half.
While it won’t show on the stat sheet, bringing in Jesse Edwards and Kadary Richmond to pressure the interior was just the defensive spark that the Orange needed to stuff the San Diego State offense. Syracuse out-rebounded 18-16 in the first half, with Girard surprisingly leading the way with five rebounds. Edwards denied a lot of the Aztecs’ offense that they tried to develop in the paint as well.
The Aztecs started the second half with a crucial adjustment offensively. San Diego State started putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket. The Aztecs finally started to see shots drop, but Syracuse kept up with the rejuvenated San Diego State offense.
The reason for that was because Buddy Boeheim stayed red-hot from his first half performance. He finished with 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting from the floor and 7-of-10 shooting from the perimeter as he continued to find himself open for three. Syracuse used screens and passing to keep him open on the perimeter.
As the second half rolled on, San Diego State reverted back to shooting threes and stayed cold. Jim Boeheim went to a more defensive lineup with Kadary Richmond, Robert Braswell, Marek Dolezaj, and Jesse Edwards in to support Buddy Boeheim. This lineup continued to shut down the Aztecs offensively and forced San Diego State to take low-percentage shots. The Aztecs finished shooting 35.8% from the floor and 27.5% from three.
While Boeheim stayed hot, the supporting defensive lineup started to help offensively as well. The Orange took advantage of the increased focus on shutting the coach’s son down as the scoring diversity finally came in the final 20 minutes. Jim Nantz mentioned that Syracuse was shooting 71% in the second half with 7:50 left. The Orange finished shooting 55.3% from the floor and 55.6% from three.
Syracuse now moves on to the round of 32 to play the winner of West Virginia-Morehead State. The Orange look to take advantage of the 2-3 zone that continues to perplex tournament teams while riding Buddy Boeheim’s hot hand. He has scored in double-digits in every game since Syracuse’s February 9 win at North Carolina State.
Syracuse looks to ride his hot hand in Indianapolis.