For the second straight night, Syracuse was simply overmatched in the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Two nights after being handled by Oklahoma State, the Orange got bullied by Penn State, falling 85-64 in the third-place game of the tournament. The loss drops SU to 4-3, their worst start to a season since the 1996-1997 campaign, when the squad finished 19-13 after being bounced in the first round of the NIT.
The Nittany Lions (6-1) dominated Syracuse inside, owning a 57-28 rebounding advantage and gathering 23 offensive boards, more than half of the possible rebounds on that end of the floor. Starting frontcourt players Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj both fouled out for the Orange after grabbing six rebounds in a combined 48 minutes of play.
Once again, SU simply could not buy a shot at Barclays. The team made just one-third of their field goals and a mere 27.3 percent of their three-point tries, nearly matching their efforts of two nights previous.
Syracuse fell behind early and they went over five-and-a-half minutes without a point, allowing Penn State to grab a stranglehold on the game. The Nittany Lions tallied a dozen points between Orange scores, cruising out to a 22-7 lead with under eight minutes to go in the opening half.
Penn State maintained a double-digit lead until Elijah Hughes scored seven straight points for SU. Hughes drained a pair of free throws, then swished a three-pointer to make it a ten-point game. The forward then was fouled on a three and made the first and last foul shots to bring Syracuse within 30-22 with just over three minutes before halftime.
The Orange shaved one more point off the gap before the break and went to the locker room trailing, 34-27.
The Nittany Lions got a free throw to open the scoring of the second half, but SU then ran off eight straight points to tie the game. Joe Girard III connected with Quincy Guerrier on a half-court lob for a lay-up, then made two of three fouls shots on the next trip. Girard added two more free throws, then made a steal and zipped a pass to Hughes for a slam that made it 35-35.
PSU promptly responded with two threes as the base of an 8-1 run for a 43-36 edge. Syracuse would get within four points three minutes later when Marek Dolezaj floated an alley-oop for a Guerrier dunk and added a jumper from just inside the arc. The latter brought the Orange within 50-46 just under eight minutes into the second half.
Penn State pushed the lead back out to eight and matched SU scores to keep them at arm’s length until less than five minutes remained. The Nittany Lions then closed strong, scoring seven of the game’s next eight points to take a 70-57 lead. When Syracuse clipped the margin to ten, PSU roared to the finish on a 15-4 run, including the night’s final seven markers.
Elijah Hughes led SU by making hay at the charity stripe. Hughes made 11-of-13 free throws while amassing 19 points. Buddy Boeheim had 14 points, but shot 5-of-16 from the floor. Quincy Guerrier posted a double-double off the bench, finishing with 13 points and ten rebounds. Marek Dolezaj chipped in with ten points.
Penn State had five players in double figures, led by Lamar Stevens’ game-high 20 points. Myreon Jones had 16 points and ten rebounds while Mike Watkins was an absolute monster, piling up 15 points and 16 boards. Curtis Jones (14) and Seth Lundy (10) added two dozen points off the Nittany Lion bench.
The Orange will return to action on Tuesday when Iowa visits the Carrier Dome as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Hawkeyes (5-2) had a four-game win streak snapped in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational Friday evening, as they fell to San Diego State, 83-73.
Center Luka Garza leads Iowa with per-game averages of 19.6 points, 10,1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks. The Hawkeyes start four guards, three of whom have made at least ten three-pointers on the campaign.
Tuesday’s game will get underway at 7:00pm Eastern with ESPN2 handling the broadcast duties.