Syracuse picked a very good time to turn in what may have been their best half of the season. In Friday’s NCAA Tournament first round game against 7-seed Dayton, the tenth-seeded Orange held a 40-23 advantage on the scoreboard, keying their 70-51 win over the Flyers.
SU (20-13) came out of the break playing great basketball, hanging a 26-5 run on UD in the first 13 minutes of the second half. Their 2-3 zone stifled the higher-seeded Flyers, holding them to 29.6 percent shooting from the floor, and the Orange also dominated the glass, doubling up their foes by a 28-14 margin after halftime. Syracuse did not shoot particularly well from the field after the break, but made up for it at the line, where they drained 16-of-19 foul shots.
There was actually very little the Orange did differently in the second half, as they finished with a +20 rebounding advantage in the game and held Dayton to a 32.1 success rate from the field, including 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) from three. The one big change between halves for SU was cleaning up their turnovers. After giving the ball to UD 11 times in the first half, Syracuse only committed four turnovers after intermission.
The two teams traded scores in the opening minutes with Dayton tallying first, then the Orange responding. The Flyers broke the trend by posting an 8-2 run to grab a 14-8 lead just over eight minutes into the game.
SU replied with an 8-1 lead to take the lead for the first time. Trevor Cooney capped a drive with an off-balance lay-up that found its way through the net. Following a Flyer free throw, Malachi Richardson got going. First, he used a DaJuan Coleman screen to get some space and stick a three from the right wing. On the next Orange possession, Richardson used a rhythm dribble and buried another trey, this one from the top of the key for a 16-15 Syracuse lead.
Dayton answered with a pair of scores, the second one from deep for a 20-16 advantage.
The Orange again answered with another run, this one a 12-3 burst. Richardson kept his hot hand going with a lay-up, then Tyler Lydon drove off a shot fake for short jumper that tied the game. Lydon then swished a long straightaway three to put SU in front.
UD matched that triple with one of their own, but Michael Gbinije split a double-team and found a wide-open Tyler Roberson for a two-handed dunk. Gbinije then trailed in transition on the next trip downcourt and drilled a three-pointer for a 28-23 lead.
Dayton tied the score once more with under 90 seconds left in the half, but SU took a 30-28 lead into halftime after Richardson drove and dropped a pretty pass to Coleman for a lay-in just before the shot clock expired.
The Orange did not take long to blow the game open in the second half. After two Syracuse foul shots and one by the Flyers, SU rang up seven straight points to open up a ten-point lead. Gbinije capped the burst with a three from near the top of the key for a 39-29 advantage.
Dayton got a lay-up to stop the bleeding, but the Orange went right back to work. Gbinije handed off to Cooney for one three-pointer, then Roberson dished and screened for Richardson, who struck one of his own to make it a 45-31 game.
The Flyers added another score, but Syracuse responded with the knockout blow, rolling up 11 consecutive points. Gbinije opened the run with a floater that fell through the rim, then Cooney added a foul shot. Lydon added a leaning lay-up, then Cooney swished a right wing triple for a 20-point lead and a Dayton time out. The next SU possession ended with a Richardson three-point play for the biggest lead of the day at 23 points coming out of the under-eight media time out.
The Orange never allowed UD to get closer than 14 points the rest of the way, in part tanks to some strong free throw shooting. SU canned 9-of-12 from the line in the final 4:23 to put the game on ice.
In his first NCAA Tournament contest, Malachi Richardson poured in a game-high 21 points. Tyler Roberson was an absolute force on the glass, grabbing 18 rebounds to complement his ten points and three steals. Tyler Lydon added 14 points off the bench for the Orange. Trevor Cooney had 13 points and Michael Gbiinje added ten.
Dayton only had two players reach double figures in scoring, led by Charles Cooke’s 14 points. Scoochie Smith added a dozen and Kyle Davis chipped in with nine.
The Orange will face 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State on Sunday. The Blue Raiders advanced by pulling off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history on Friday, knocking off #2-seed Michigan State, 90-81. After allowing a 2-2 tie, MTSU grabbed the lead for good just over a minute into the game and led at one point in the first half by 13 points.
All five Blue Raiders who started the contest tallied double digits, led by Reggie Upshaw, who had 21 points, and Giddy Potts, who rang up 19. Middle Tennessee made just under 56 percent of their shots from the field in the game, including just under 58 percent of their three-pointers.
Syracuse and Middle Tennessee will find out their game time early Sunday morning. Television details will be announced at that time, as well.
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