In spite of it being Syracuse’s opening game of March Madness on Thursday night, it seemed a lot more like a mid-December non-conference tune-up at the Carrier Dome.
The fourth-seeded Orange (27-9) bolted out of the gate and never let up, overwhelming #13 seed Montana (25-6) in their second round game in the NCAA Tournament in San Jose, California, 83-36. Jim Boeheim used his bench extensively, playing all 13 players who traveled for the game, none of them for more than 29 minutes.
SU was simply too much for the Grizzlies on defense, holding them to 20.4 percent shooting in the game, forcing 17 turnovers, and not allowing a single player to score more than five points on the night. Syracuse also shot 51.9 percent on the evening and had 21 assists on their 27 field goals. The Orange used their advantages in height and athleticism to dominate inside, scoring 38 points in the paint to Montana’s dozen.
C.J. Fair poured in the first six points of the night for SU as they jumped out to an 8-2 lead. After a Grizzlies free throw, Syracuse scored seven consecutive points to trigger a 12-1 burst to grab a 20-4 advantage less than eight minutes into the action. Montana scored back-to-back baskets to get within a dozen, then traded scores to get within a dozen one more time, but the Orange put the clamps down on defense. SU permitted only one field goal in the half’s final nine minutes as they closed the session with a 15-4 run for a 38-15 lead at the break.
Any dreams of a Grizzlies comeback were snuffed out right from the start of the second half as Syracuse scored six points to stretch their lead to 29 less than two-and-a-half minutes after the action resumed. A Montana jump shot broke the run, but the Orange ran off 11 unanswered points for a 55-17 lead before the half was six minutes old. At this point of the game, Brandon Triche was outscoring the entire Grizzlies squad, as he had 18 points. SU kept their intensity high, later running off eight straight points to stretch the lead to 76-28 with 5:30 to play. The final points of the night for Syracuse stretched the lead to its greatest point at 81-31 with under 90 seconds on the clock.
Brandon Triche paced the Orange with 20 points and came up with four steals. C.J. Fair tacked on 13 points, including 11 in the opening half, and DaJuan Coleman poured in a dozen off the bench without entering the game until the final 15 minutes. Rakeem Christmas and James Southerland each chipped in with nine points. Michael Carter-Williams handed out nine assists and collected three steals.
The 47-point margin of victory is the second-largest in Syracuse’s NCAA Tournament history. SU thumped Brown in the 1986 tourney, 101-52. The 47 points also is the largest margin of victory by a three-seed over a 14-seed since the tourney expanded to 64 teams.
The 34 points allowed is the lowest in SU’s tournament history, besting the previous record of 43 points allowed to Princeton in 1992. Montana’s previous low-scoring output on the season was 60 points. The 34 points is also the fewest allowed by the Orange this year and the 15 first half points was the fewest allowed in the first half of any game by SU this season.
Brandon Triche’s 20 points boosted him into the top 20 on Syracuse’s all-time scoring list. Triche passed Jason Hart and Dennis DuVal and currently stands 19th in the school record book 1,522 points, 16 behind current SU assistant coach Adrian Autry, who is in 18th place.
The Orange return to action on Saturday when they will match up with another group of bears, this one from California. The Golden Bears (21-11), who are the #12 seed in the East Region, held on for a 64-61 victory over Nevada-Las Vegas in their game on Thursday. The approximate tip-off time for the game is 9:40pm and will be televised by TBS.