Encapsulating the last few weeks of the season, Syracuse’s offense failed them when they needed it the most once again on Saturday night as they dropped a 55-53 decision to Dayton in Buffalo, New York. The third-seeded Orange (28-6) had a stretch of over seven minutes and another span of nearly six minutes without a field goal in the game as they shot under 39 percent from the floor and 30.4 percent in the first half.
SU shot blanks from deep, missing all ten of their three-pointers. Perhaps most curious of all the offensive numbers was the scoring breakdown for Syracuse: 40 points in the paint, 11 free throws, and two points via one jump shot outside of the key.
With the win, the 11-seed Flyers move on to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1984. How long ago was that? Only 53 teams were invited to the tournament that year.
Syracuse, in sharp contrast, moves on to the offseason with the certain losses of C.J. Fair and Baye Moussa Keita, who have completed their eligibility, and the possible losses of Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant, who may opt to declare for the NBA draft.
Dayton left the door open late in the final minutes for the Orange to walk through by making only 10-of-18 free throws overall, but did connect on 3-of-4 in the final 22.4 seconds. The SU defense was solid most of the night, forcing 14 turnovers in the game, but permitted the Flyers to make just shy of half their shots after intermission, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The game was ugly in the first half, as neither team could muster much offense. Dayton got a three to start the scoring, but Tyler Ennis set up Rakeem Christmas for an easy two-handed dunk to get the Orange on the board.
After each team scored another basket, the Syracuse offense went into its first long break of the night. The Orange failed to score for the next 5:54, missing four shots and turning it over three times on their seven possessions in that span. The Flyers took advantage, getting a pair of stickbacks and a jumper to grab an 11-4 lead.
Michael Gbinije entered the game at the under-12 media timeout and was a spark for SU, becoming the second player on the team to score when he immediately knifed into the lane and spun for a lay-up. That was the first of three consecutive successful trips for the Orange, who climbed back within 14-10 with just over nine minutes left in the half.
Gbinije halved the margin when he got a soft roll on a jump shot. After Rakeem Christmas made an emphatic blocked shot, the Orange got out in transition. C.J. Fair ended up being fouled on a drive to the bucket and made one free throw to pull SU within 14-13.
A pair of Dayton free throws stretched the lead to three, but Trevor Cooney negated them with a short jumper in the lane with 4:46 on the clock. That was the last Syracuse field goal until 2:17 into the second half.
The Flyers, however, could not truly take advantage. Fair again was fouled on a drive and dropped in two foul shots for SU’s first lead of the night at 17-16. Dayton got a bucket to take a one point lead, but Fair was fouled on a pull-up jumper and made one to knot the score at 18 a side. Three possessions later, UD got the final score of the half, a jumper that gave them a 20-18 lead at the break.
Just over two minutes into the second half, Christmas dropped in a jump hook off the heel of the rim to tie the game again. Dayton responded by scoring six of the next eight points for a 26-22 lead at the first media timeout of the session.
The final three points in that span came due to a curious call. Cooney was whistled for a flagrant foul for throwing an elbow when he made contact with a defender after catching the ball and turning toward the basket. Dayton made one free throw, then got possession again. The Flyers then airballed a three, but got a putback just before the shot clock expired.
Shortly after that, Ennis made a nifty drive and lefty finish to pull the Orange within a point. Dayton responded with a floater and a corner three that gave them a 32-26 lead and made Jim Boeheim to call a time out with just under 13 minutes on the clock.
The strategy session paid off for the Orange, as Ennis immediately set up Gbinije for an easy baseline jam, then knocked down a pair of foul shots. After another Flyer three, Jerami Grant swished a 17-footer and Fair banked in a short drive to pull SU within 35-34.
On the next defensive stand, Grant and Ennis forced a turnover and Gbinije scooped up the loose ball, then took off for the other end of the court. He sliced in for a contested lay-up that gave Syracuse their first lead of the half and forced Dayton to call a time out.
The Flyers got a jumper to quickly retake the lead, but Fair scored in the lane, then Ennis deftly connected on a finger roll to cap the run at 14-5 and put SU in front, 40-37, with under eight minutes left.
Dayton was unaffected and ripped off seven straight points for a four-point lead. Grant put home an offensive rebound, but Dayton responded with a beautiful possession, making several extra passes that resulted in a corner three for a 47-42 lead with under five minutes to play.
Ennis took it upon himself to whittle away at that margin, grabbing consecutive rebounds and going the length of the court for lay-ups that brought the Orange within a single point.
Then, things went a little sideways for Syracuse.
Grant made a huge block, but in transition, Ennis simply lost the ball and Dayton converted a fast break layup to push the lead to three. Grant made a baseline drive then zipped a pass to a wide-open Gbinije in the corner for a three. The ball knuckled off the rim.
The Flyers responded by burying a deep three, strengthening their hold on the game at 52-46 with under a minute to go.
Again, Ennis made a foray down the floor, this time hesitating only to get a screen, which he used to get into the lane and make a lay-up while being fouled. With 40.5 seconds remaining, Ennis knocked down the free throw to make it a 52-49 game.
The Orange fouled and Dayton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Once more, Ennis attacked the rim. While he did not make the shot, the freshman was fouled and, once again, he was successful, this time hitting both to make it a one-point game with 24.8 seconds left.
Syracuse again fouled, but it was Grant’s fifth, sending him to the sidelines with 22.4 to play. This time, UD got two swishes to go up 54-51. The Orange responded with another lay-up from Ennis and trailed by a single point once more, this time with 16 seconds remaining.
On the inbounds pass, SU trapped a Dayton player in front of the Orange bench. The Flyer stepped on the sideline, handing the ball to Syracuse with 13.8 seconds to play.
The ball in his hands once more, Ennis this time settled for an 18-foot straightaway jump shot. The attempt, however, was well to the right and Dayton collected the rebound, forcing the Orange to foul with 6.5 seconds on the clock.
This time, the Flyers made the first shot to make it a 55-53 game. The second shot was short, though, and Christmas gathered the rebound for SU. He passed to Ennis, who sprinted up the court, then pulled up for a three-pointer with two seconds left. The shot was short, Dayton rebounded, and Syracuse’s season came to a final halt.
Tyler Ennis paced all scorers with 19 points, including ringing up 17 after halftime, but needed 21 field goal attempts to get there. C. J. Fair had his second straight double-double, this one of 14 points and ten rebounds, but he only made 4-of-14 shots from the field. Fair also had three blocked shots.
Michael Gbinije chipped in with eight points off the bench, mostly in place of Trevor Cooney, who went 1-for-6 in the first half and did not put up a shot in the second half. Rakeem Christmas performed well, finishing with six points, eight boards, and three blocks. Jerami Grant, who averaged over 12 points per game on the season, somehow did not attempt a field goal until nearly 30 minutes had elapsed in the game and finished with four points.
Dyshawn Pierre led the Flyers with 14 points on the night. Jordan Sibert was the only other Dayton player in double figures with ten points. Vee Sanford had eight points and Devin Oliver grabbed ten rebounds to go with his seven points.