How good was the Syracuse defense on Saturday against California in their NCAA Tournament third round game? The Orange made only six field goals in the second half, including going through a drought where they did not make a basket for over 12 minutes, and still never led by fewer than six points as they held on for a 66-60 victory to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
SU (28-9) spent a large portion of the second half standing at the free throw line, as they made 22 out of 36 free throws to generate most of their offense in the session. Their defense, however, continued to stifle the Golden Bears (21-12), who shot 39.3 percent from the field, including 4-of-21 from three-point range, and turned the ball over 17 times.
California got on the scoreboard first, but that would prove to be their lone lead of the night, as Syracuse scored the game’s next 11 points for a nine-point lead just after the game turned six minutes old. The Golden Bears got things going, responding with seven unanswered points by scoring on three consecutive possessions to get within 11-9 near the opening half’s midpoint. The Orange rose to the challenge, closing a 10-2 run with seven straight points to take command as 21-11. SU’s lead caromed between eight and 12 points over the remaining 6:52 of the half and settled at 32-24 at intermission.
An early score for Cal got them within six points, a margin the Golden Bears would close to a second time in the opening minutes of the second half, but Syracuse nudged the margin to 42-29 by scoring seven unanswered points, all at the charity stripe. A California free throw stopped the run, but another pair of Orange shots from the line pushed the SU lead to its biggest point of the night at 44-30 with just over 11 minutes left. During this span, Syracuse relied on their defense, holding Cal without a field goal for 8:36.
The Golden Bears were able to get their offense moving in fits and starts to slice the Orange lead to seven points with just under five minutes remaining, but SU scored seven of the game’s next eight points to regain control at 57-44 with 3:02 on the clock. California buried a pair of three-pointers in 30 seconds to get within seven with just under two minutes left, then got a lay-up to close the gap to 59-53 with 1:22 on the clock, but Syracuse responded with three free throws and an emphatic dunk by Baye Moussa Keita in their next three possessions to get some breathing room at 64-54 with 36 seconds left. An Orange turnover kept the Golden Bears alive as they got two quick scores to get back within six, but a final pair of SU free throws effectively ended the game with 21 seconds on the clock.
C.J. Fair paced the Syracuse offense, tallying 14 of his 18 points in the first half. James Southerland had a strong effort on both ends of the floor, scoring 14 points while coming down with nine rebounds and coming up with four steals. Michael Carter-Williams chipped in with a dozen points while Baye Moussa Keita scored 11 points off the bench.
- With the win, Syracuse earned their fourth Sweet Sixteen berth in five seasons and 18th trip overall.
- Jim Boeheim now has 50 NCAA Tournament wins on his resume.
- Brandon Triche has now started more games (143) and has appeared in more SU victories (119) than any other player in Syracuse history. He will tie Stephen Thompson for games played in an Orange uniform in his next appearance.
- The Orange are off until Thursday, when they will play either the East’s top seed, Indiana, or the ninth seed, Temple, in Washington DC. Those two teams play on Sunday afternoon to see who advances to take on SU.