Saturday’s NIT second round game against Mississippi was a single-size serving of the season for Syracuse, who was at various times impressive, frustrating, invigorating, and disappointing. Most importantly, as they often did this year, the Orange (19-15) were simply unable to stop an opponent, dropping an 85-80 game to the Rebels (22-13).
While not a strong three-point shooting team, Ole Miss drowned SU in a downpour of triples, hitting 15 in the game, including ten after halftime. In fact, the Rebels connected on bombs on five consecutive possessions wrapped around halftime to take control of the game, turning an eight-point deficit into a seven-point lead. Syracuse would never take the lead back in the contest.
The Orange held the advantage in the opening minutes of the game, but Mississippi had the first substantial run of the day. The Rebels rolled up a 10-2 streak that lasted just over two-and-a-half minutes to take a 17-12 advantage before the game was seven minutes old.
SU immediately struck back with a half dozen points to go back on top. Taurean Thompson had the first two baskets, notching a lay-up off a loose ball and an alley-oop from Frank Howard. Tyler Lydon capped the streak with a putback for an 18-17 Syracuse lead.
Ole Miss jumped back on top, setting a trend for the next several minutes, as the teams passed the lead back and forth multiple times. The Orange would snap that streak late in the half by posting a dozen unanswered points.
Howard was a driving force in that span, starting the streak with a three from the left wing that tied the game. Two trips later, the sophomore guard finished a drive from the left side for the lead, then Lydon swished a straightaway three. Lydon emphatically ended the next SU possession by driving the right baseline and throwing down a violent two-handed dunk. Howard capped the run with a lay-in, giving Syracuse a 34-25 lead with under three minutes left in the first half.
The Rebels responded by cranking up their outside shooting. Three triples in the 90 seconds before halftime, the last coming just before the buzzer, brought them within 38-36 at the break. Three more after intermission made it 15 straight Ole Miss points and gave the guests a 45-38 lead.
The Orange were game, though, and struck back with a 9-2 run. Thompson hit a left baseline fadeaway jumper to start up the SU offense, then Tyus Battle converted a fast break with a contested drive. Andrew White III went coast-to-coast after a Thompson block, then Battle answered a Mississippi score with a three from the left side, knotting the game at 47 a side just over five minutes into the second half.
Ole Miss scored the next five points and Syracuse found themselves trying to get the lead back, but never able to do so. With a little over 11 minutes to go, Battle drove the left baseline and exploded for a two-handed jam to bring the crowd out of their seats and the Orange back within one.
The Rebels quickly pushed the lead back out to a half dozen. Battle connected for three from the left wing, then used a slick hesitation move to get free for a lefty lay-up while being fouled. Battle could not complete the three-point play, leaving SU down, 61-60. Battle did, however, answer an Ole Miss three with one of his own on the next possession, keeping Syracuse within a single point.
The Rebels again stretched their lead to six points, but the Orange again responded, this time using an 8-2 run to knot the game once more. Andrew White III hit his first triple of the day to halve the lead then finished the run with another. The latter trey made it a 71-71 game with just four minutes to go.
Ole Miss got a three to go back in front, but White III buried one with a defender in his face to tie the game one more time. It would prove to be the final time that SU got even.
Two successful possessions gave the Rebels a four-point advantage, but Thompson ate up half of that with a dunk and Lydon erased half of the remaining margin with a foul shot. The free throw left Ole Miss with a 79-78 lead with 45 seconds to play.
The Rebels added a three-pointer and a free throw to push the lead out to five points. Battle connected on a pull-up jumper, bringing Syracuse within one possession, but the Orange fouled and Ole Miss got both shots to fall, pushing the lead to 85-80 with 27 seconds left.
Lydon missed a three and Mississippi cleaned the glass, all but ending the game.
Taurean Thompson had one of the best games of his freshman season, hitting 8-of-11 shots from the field en route to 18 points to go with eight rebounds and five steals. Andrew White III bounced back from a slow start to finish with 18 points, 13 coming in the second half. Tyus Battle was dominant in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points after the break. Tyler Lydon had his ninth double-double of the season, finishing with 15 points and 14 boards. Lydon did most of his work early, as he had 14 points and nine rebounds in the first half.
Terence Davis had a career day for the Rebels, hitting 6-of-7 from deep as he poured in 30 points, including 19 in the second half. Deandre Burnett almost had a double-double, finishing with 19 points and nine assists, and also drained five triples. Cullen Neal added 15 points off the bench while Sebastian Siaz hung a 10-point, 12-rebound double-double.