DETROIT (AP) — Forget the matchup between the Syracuse defense and TCU’s offense. That was no contest.
The question was whether the Orange could score enough to take that smothering zone to another round.
“We just wanted to stay poised down the stretch,” guard Frank Howard said. “We didn’t want to get frustrated or start to force anything.”
Howard’s jumper with 1:27 remaining gave 11th-seeded Syracuse a five-point lead, and the Orange held on for a 57-52 victory over sixth-seeded TCU on Friday night in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. Marek Dolezaj scored 17 points before fouling out, and Syracuse imposed its will defensively.
The Orange (22-13) won for the second time in the tournament and advanced to face third-seeded Michigan State on Sunday.
TCU (21-12) is still without an NCAA Tournament victory since 1987, when coach Jamie Dixon was a player. This was the school’s first appearance since 1998, and it was short-lived.
“We kind of made history this year getting in the tournament for the first time in 20 years,” guard Kenrich Williams said. “I mean, I learned a lot on and off the court, learned a lot from my teammates, from the coaches.”
There was little doubt who won the much-anticipated matchup between TCU’s excellent offense and Syracuse’s zone. The Horned Frogs were held 31 points below their season average.
“They didn’t get any easy shots the whole game, and I thought that was the difference,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “We did a good job on the boards and didn’t turn the ball over. It was a really good win.”
Syracuse led 50-49 before mid-range shots by Tyus Battle and Howard pushed the lead to five. That margin was plenty in this game.
The Orange shot 39.6 percent from the field. TCU finished at 36.8.
“We’re probably not going to shoot 50 percent against them,” Dixon said. “What they do, you’ve got to get second shots, you’ve got to get putbacks.”
TCU had only 11 second-chance points. Williams led the Horned Frogs with 14 points.
TCU did score eight straight points to finish the first half with a 28-27 lead.
It’s March, and Syracuse again looks like a threat after barely making the NCAAs as the last team selected for the field of 68. The Orange weren’t impressive at all on offense, but it didn’t matter. Now it’ll be Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s turn to try to solve that 2-3 zone.
TCU had one real highlight on the night — an alley-oop pass from Alex Robinson to Williams near the end of the first half that traveled about three-quarters of the length of the court.
Howard, Battle and Oshae Brissett — Syracuse’s top scoring threats — went a combined 10 of 39 from the field. Dolezaj picked up the slack with 13 points in the first half, but fouled out with 6:11 remaining.
“Marek was unbelievable,” Boeheim said. “The only reason we were in the game was the way he played early.”
A tight, compelling contest throughout, the game nevertheless had an odd feel, with Little Caesars Arena having mostly emptied out after the Michigan State-Bucknell game . TCU and Syracuse played in front of a handful of fans who at times seemed as interested in periodic Virginia-UMBC updates as what was going on in front of them on the court.
UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1.
Syracuse had to beat Arizona State in the First Four to start this tournament, so the game against Michigan State will be its third in five days.
The offseason comes earlier than TCU would like, but the program is clearly making progress under Dixon.
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