This was a game Syracuse should have dominated and in many ways they did, leading for the final 38 minutes. But the Orange could never quite pull away from the scrappy Sycamores until late in the game. No win in the NCAA Tournament can be discredited but the Orange will need to play with a lot harder to advance any further.
Indiana State was clearly no match for Syracuse’s size, headlined of course by Rick Jackson. Jackson has been the Orange’s rock all season long and playing against a team with no one over 6’8 he was bound to have a field day. SU featured him early and often as he scored 8 of the first 14 points. Indiana State did a poor job denying him the ball and usually took far too long to bring the double team to force the ball out of his hands. Jackson was given room to work and made them pay. He finished with a season-high 23 points but fell shy of another double-double with just 7 rebounds. The rest of the team contributed on the boards though as Syracuse outrebounded the smaller Sycamores, 33-22.
Jackson’s domination was no surprise but there was one aspect of his game that came as a bit of a shock. Jackson, a 51-percent free throw shooter, knocked down 9 of 11 from the line including his first 8 attempts. As a team the Orange knocked down 24 of 31 free throws good for 74-percent – a big improvement over their 66-percent average.
Outside of Jackson and CJ Fair off the bench, no one played particularly well on either side of the ball. The defense looked slow throughout the game but especially in the first half. Indiana State moved the ball well and were able to get good looks on most possessions. They did most of their damage from the outside, knocking down 6 of 13 3-pointers in the first half. And this wasn’t a Seton Hall-like performance where players were on fire. The majority of those shots were good, open looks at the basket.
One of the main reasons they were able to get such good looks was because of the penetration from Jake Odum. Odum channeled his inner-Devendorf, sporting the chinstrap and rocking a similar cocky attitude with some no-look and whip passes. He drove through the lane and kicked out when the zone collapsed. Syracuse adjusted in the second half by daring him to shoot and not allowing him to kick it out to the perimeter. Without the open looks from deep, Indiana State hit just 1 of 8 from 3-point range in the second half.
The biggest reason Syracuse wasn’t able to break this game open until late was it didn’t get its normal helping of easy points in transition. They weren’t able to step into passing lanes and turn up court or swat a shot and look for a guard leaking out. The Orange is at its best when their defense gets on a role of forcing turnovers and getting some easy buckets. This aspect of their game was practically nonexistent last night.
Bottom line though, is the Orange took care of business and advance to play Sunday. They will play Marquette, where they will have the chance to seek some revenge for a loss suffered to the Golden Eagles on January 29.
-A word of advice to Jake Odum. The chinstrap is not a good look. And you can trust that opinion from a Syracuse fan that had to deal with Eric Devendorf for 4 years. Sure, his cockiness was a big reason people hated him but his chinstrap was probably the reason number one.
-With Syracuse leading 69-51 with 2:37 remaining, CJ Fair grabbed an offensive rebound and Aaron Carter wrapped him up to stop the clock. You really hadn’t given up at that point? Down 18 with 2:37 remaining? Larry Bird would be so proud…
-Speaking of Larry Bird – I was thinking they should change their team name to the Indiana State Birds. He’s all they’re known for anyways. Their mascot could be a guy with a giant Larry Bird head and a throwback Indiana State jersey.