On a night when they struggled on offense once more, Syracuse came through with a 7-1 run to hold off TCU for a 57-52 NCAA Tournament win. The Orange (22-13) had held the Horned Frogs (21-12) without a field goal for a span of nine minutes and 15 seconds earlier in the second half, but were only able to outscore them in that time, 10-6.
On a night when both Tyus Battle and Frank Howard failed to reach double figures in the same game for the first time all season, SU got an spark from Marek Dolezaj. The freshman forward went 6-of-9 for 13 points in the first half, including his first three since the season opener, and finished with 17 before fouling out in the second half.
Texas Christian made three of their first four three-point tries in the game, then missed their final 13 shots from beyond the arc. While the Orange actually shot worse than TCU overall (36.8 percent compared to 39.4), they forced 13 turnovers and finished with a modest +3 rebounding edge, including a dozen offensive boards.
The two teams remained within two points of each other in the first eight minutes of action, but Syracuse ran off six straight points to trigger a 10-2 run to take the first commanding lead of the night. Bourama Sidibe started the run with a baby hook that put SU on top, then Oshae Brissett added two foul shots. Frank Howard canned a jumper just inside the arc on an inbounds play to give the Orange a five-point lead.
After a TCU basket, Brissett added another set of foul shots, then Marek Dolezaj flipped a shot at the basket that bounced in for his fourth field goal of the half for a 20-13 SU lead with a little over seven minutes left in the opening half.
Syracuse kept the Horned Frogs at bay for the next several minutes, benefitting from a couple opportune baskets by Dolezaj. First, he hit a three-pointer late in the shot clock, then cut in to follow a Brissett miss, reinstating the seven-point Orange lead with less than four minutes to go in the first half.
Texas Christian came roaring back, though, scoring the final eight points of the half for a 28-27 lead at the break. They also added the first marker after intermission to make it ten consecutive points.
Dolezaj continued having the hot hand after SU broke through, converting a fast break alley-oop from Howard with a dunk and adding a floater late in the shot clock to keep pace with TCU. Two possessions later, Tyus Battle splashed a three from the right corner for a 36-34 Syracuse lead coming out of the first media time out.
The Horned Frogs got a dunk a minute later, but that would be their last field goal for 9:15. They would, however, add a foul shot to go back in front as the Orange were scuffling through a near-four-minute scoreless streak.
Sidibe snapped the dry spell by grabbing a loose ball and laying it in for a 38-37 lead. A couple minutes later, Howard swished a three from the right corner to build a four-point margin.
In spite of continuing to stifle the TCU offense, SU could never truly grow their lead. When the Horned Frogs got a lay-up with just over five minutes to play, it sliced the Syracuse lead to 46-45.
Brissett, however, steadied the Orange with a leaner from the right side of the key, the third straight basket for the freshman. Texas Christian got a score right back, but Paschal Chukwu replied with two foul shots for a three-point SU lead. The Horned Frogs notched a putback on the ensuing trip to cut the margin to 50-49 with 3:33 on the clock.
The Orange scored seven of the next eight points in the game. Battle drained a floater on the left side the paint, then Howard pulled up in the key for a floater of his own and a 54-49 Syracuse lead with 90 seconds to go.
After a TCU miss, the Orange bled the clock, but Howard’s three missed the mark. The Horned Frogs got the first free throw, but missed the second and Matthew Moyer rebounded and was fouled. Moyer made the first of two foul shots for a 55-50 lead.
The Horned Frogs had difficulty trying to find an open shot on the ensuing possession as SU’s defense extended, not allowing them an open look at the basket and draining precious time from the clock. TCU settled for a long three-point try in the waning moments, but it was an airball that Chukwu snatched from the air.
Chukwu was fouled and hit both free throws, pushing the lead to 57-50 with three seconds and change to play. A meaningless jump shot was all the Horned Frogs could muster.
Marek Dolezaj paced all scorers with 17 points. Oshae Brissett fell one rebound shy of a double-double, finishing with 13 points and nine boards. Paschal Chukwu chipped in with eight points, including a 6-for-6 night at the line, and ten rebounds. Tyus Battle and Frank Howard both struggled shooting, but chipped in with seven points each.
Kenrich Williams topped Texas Christian with 14 points and eight rebounds. Vladimir Brodziansky was his only teammate in double figures, tacking on 13 points. Kouat Noi and Alex Robinson each added seven points.
With the victory, the Orange advance to the round of 32 and will face third-seeded Michigan State on Sunday. The Spartans (30-4) held off Bucknell in their first round game, 82-78. MSU has lost only once in the last two months, falling to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals.
Five different Spartans average in double figures on the season, led by Miles Bridges and his 17.3 points per game mark. Five different players, including four of those five double-digit scorers, have made at least 38 triples on the season. Cassius Winston leads the team with 72 threes and has shot 51.4 percent from beyond the arc this season.
Sunday’s action will get underway at 2:40pm Eastern. The contest will be televised by CBS.