Coming into Syracuse’s Sweet Sixteen game against Houston, their worst shooting effort of the season was making just 30.0% of their field goal attempts in a 78-61 loss at Clemson. The second-seeded Cougars (27-3) lived up to their reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the nation, shutting down the #11-seed Orange (18-10) in a 62-46 win, allowing them to shoot just 28.0 percent from the field.
That Houston defense simply permitted few good looks at the basket, thrice holding Syracuse without a field goal for over six minutes of game time.
Despite being in that stranglehold most of the night, SU was within four points a little over seven minutes into the second half. They mustered a mere nine points the rest of the way on 2-of-16 shooting from the field with five turnovers added for good measure. In the final 12:40 of the night, the Orange got two field goals, including a three-pointer, and two free throws from Joe Girard III and two foul shots from Jesse Edwards. No one else scored.
The Cougars did not play the prettiest game on offense, shooting 38.3 percent from the floor, but did get 15 assists (against just eight turnovers) on their 23 baskets and had 11 offensive rebounds as part of their 40-31 edge on the glass. The Syracuse zone held Houston to under 27 percent from three-point range, helping them stay within arm’s reach for most of the night.
Setting the tone for the evening, the Orange struggled out of the gate, making just one shot over a six-plus minute span that allowed Houston to rip off a 15-3 run to take a 17-5 stranglehold on the game. Just as quickly, SU wriggled out of the Cougars’ grip, scoring on five of six trips while forcing three turnovers on the other end.
Kadary Richmond slipped a pass to Quincy Guerrier for a two-handed dunk, then Alan Griffin added two foul shots. Richmond and Joe Girard III each added short jumpers, then Jesse Edwards twisted in a turnaround from the right block to make it an 10-0 Syracuse run to pull within 17-15 with a little over seven minutes left in the opening half.
The Orange gave up a three, but kept chipping away at the gap, finally erasing it on four Buddy Boeheim foul shots in five attempts to knot the score at 20 a side with just under five minutes before halftime.
However, that Edwards basket was the last SU field goal for the remainder of the half. Houston took advantage of that cold shooting, running off the final ten points of the session for a 30-20 halftime lead.
Syracuse ground a few points off the gap in the opening minutes of the second half, but a jump shot and triple by the Cougars pushed their lead out to 12 points again, this time at 39-27 with just under four minutes elapsed in the second half.
The Orange came back with a 10-2 run to draw within four. Boeheim swished a left wing three when Marek Dolezaj zipped him a crosscourt pass out of a double team, then dropped in a floater. Guerrier than drove for a lay-up to offset a pair of Houston free throws, then Dolezaj found Richmond in the left corner for a three to pull SU within 41-37.
But, again, the Syracuse offense wilted, missing their next nine shots from the floor. That enabled the Cougars to piece together a 9-2 run and build their lead to 50-39.
Girard finally ended that drought with a stepback just below the foul line with just under five minutes to play, bringing the Orange within nine. SU would chip one more point off the gap, but Houston effectively ended the game with nine straight points for a 60-43 lead with a little over two minutes remaining.
Buddy Boeheim and Joe Girard III led the Syracuse offense with 12 points apiece, but both struggled to get there. Boeheim shot 3-for-13 from the floor, missing eight of nine from behind the arc, and Girard just 4-of-10. Quincy Guerrier added eight points with no other SU player scoring more than five.
Quentin Grimes led all scorers in the game with 14 points for Houston, making four three-pointers for the bulk of his output. Justin Gorham was a force, posting 13 points and ten rebounds, marking his 13th double-digit rebounding effort of the season. Marcus Sasser finished with a dozen points while DeJon Jarreau had nine points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.