Syracuse’s calling card this season has been its defense and, once again, they played that card at the most opportune time, holding Michigan State without a field goal over the final 5:41 of their NCAA Tournament second round game in Detroit, Michigan. Backed by that defense, the Orange (23-13) scored seven straight points to take a lead they would not give up in their 55-53 win. With the victory, Syracuse claimed a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
In spite of playing a virtual home game, the Spartans (30-5) missed their final 13 field goal attempts on a day when SU held them to 25.8 percent shooting from the field and 21.6 percent from three-point range. MSU was in the game due to their dominant rebounding effort, as they grabbed almost as many offensive rebounds (29) as Syracuse did in total (30). Michigan State finished +21 on the glass.
The Orange offense was its typical self, making only 35.7 percent of their field goal attempts, but they got to the free throw line 31 times, making 24. That effectively doubled the Spartans’ 11-of-16 output at the line. SU was particularly proficient at the line in the second half, as 19 of their 33 second half points came from the stripe.
Syracuse trailed early in the game, but then held Michigan State without a field goal for just over six-and-a-half minutes. That defensive effort allowed the Orange to roll up eight straight points and take an early lead.
Oshae Brissett started the run with a leaner in the paint while being fouled, but missed the free throw. Tyus Battle deflected a Spartan pass that Frank Howard chased down and converted into a transition lay-up. Marek Dolezaj spun on a drive and flipped in a short shot to put SU in front, then Brissett curled to the right elbow for a jumper and a 10-7 lead eight minutes into the action.
MSU fought back to go in front by a bucket, but Battle got a foul shot and Howard a soft jumper high off the glass while being fouled. Howard’s free throw put Syracuse in front, 14-12.
That soft kiss off the window was the last Orange shot from the field for nearly six minutes as the Spartans scored eight of the game’s next nine points for the biggest lead to that point at 20-15 with less than three minutes to go in the opening half.
SU responded with a 7-2 burst to knot the score. Howard started the streak with a floater, then was fouled grabbing a defensive rebound with Syracuse in the bonus. After Howard drained both ends from the line, Michigan State scored a basket. Brissett capped the little run with the lone Orange three of the game to knot the score at 22 a side.
The game seemed headed toward halftime with that score, particularly when Matthew Moyer blocked Matt McQuaid’s three from the left corner in the waning seconds. The ball went back to McQuaid, who was able to fling it toward the hoop before the horn. Naturally, the ball banked in off the glass, putting the Spartans up at the break, 25-22.
Michigan State would add another trey on the first possession of the second half, doubling their lead to six. They would hold that lead four times in the following four minutes, but could never lengthen it beyond that margin.
SU attacked that lead from the foul line, getting a set of free throws from Battle and three-of-four across two possessions from Brissett to get within 38-37 with nearly eight minutes elapsed. When Howard got the first Syracuse basket in nearly four-and-a-half minutes, it brought them within a single point once more at 40-39.
The Spartans got the next two buckets, nudging their lead out to five again. Battle struck back for the Orange with a three-point play, bringing them within 44-42 with a little over seven minutes to go.
SU then took a significant blow, as Howard was called for his fourth and fifth fouls on back-to-back plays. The latter was a touch foul called on the inbounds pass following the former and sent Howard to the sideline with 6:39 to go. Braedon Bayer, a walk-on who had previously played at Division III Grinnell College, was summoned to fill in.
Less than a minute later, Michigan State stretched their lead to 48-43 with 5:41 left on a jump shot, but that would be their last basket of the day. Syracuse would run up the next seven markers, starting with a pair of Battle foul shots. Brissett then scored on the third Orange shot attempt of the following trip, getting a circus lay-up to fall.
On the following Spartan possession, Dolezaj corralled the defensive rebound and was fouled. The freshman swished both foul shots, putting SU in front by a single point with 4:22 on the clock. Bourama Sidibe was fouled grabbing the defensive rebound on the next MSU shot and he made the second try, pushing the lead to 50-48 with just over four minutes to play.
Neither side scored for two minutes until Michigan State halved the margin with a foul shot. Two possessions later, Battle drilled a stepback jumper from the left wing to give Syracuse a three-point lead with 47.6 seconds remaining.
The Orange got a stop and got the rebound, but Battle had the ball knocked away, eventually leading to a scramble and a jump ball awarded to MSU. The Spartans missed two shots on the ensuing possession and Bayer forced a jump ball after Michigan State grabbed the second miss. The ball went to SU with 7.9 seconds to play, but they once again turned it over.
Following a Spartan time out, the Orange fouled instead of allowing a three-point attempt to tie the game. Michigan State made both ends of the bonus to get within 52-51 with seven seconds to play.
Brissett threw a long inbound pass to Battle, who gathered the ball and was fouled with 6.1 seconds on the clock. The sophomore calmly made both shots for a 54-51 lead.
SU again fouled and the Spartans made both shots from the line to get within a single marker once more. This time, the inbound pass went to Paschal Chukwu, who was fouled with 2.4 seconds remaining.
Chukwu, whose lone shot attempt of the day was a missed alley-oop attempt, hit the first try for a 55-53 Syracuse lead. His second attempt missed and Michigan State was forced to scramble for a shot attempt. That try was released after the horn from beyond half court, giving the Orange the win.
Tyus Battle scored 16 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, including hitting all eight of his foul shots after the break. Oshae Brissett again fell just shy of a double-double, finishing with 15 points and nine rebounds. Frank Howard had nine of his 13 points in the first half.
Cassius Winston paced Michigan State with 15 points. Miles Bridges had 11 points, but finished 4-of-18 from the field. Both players made three three-pointers in the game. Nick Ward was the only other Spartan in double figures in scoring, finishing with ten points. Xavier Tillman led all players with a dozen rebounds, nine of them on offense.
The #11 seed Orange will take on ACC rival and second-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen in Omaha, Nebraska. The Blue Devils (28-7) reached the Sweet Sixteen by defeating Iona and Rhode Island by over 20 points apiece.
Duke handled Syracuse easily in the lone meeting between the two teams, using a 19-5 second half to blow open the game and grab a 60-44 home win. Marvin Bagley III had 19 points to lead the Blue Devils and Wendell Carter Jr. had 16 points and ten rebounds. Tyus Battle and Frank Howard were the only SU players to reach double figures, tallying 14 and 11 points, respectively.
The Syracuse athletic department is listing that Duke and Syracuse will face off in the NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal on Friday. Tip time and television network (either CBS or TBS) are yet to be set.