After both upsetting higher seeds in the first round, Syracuse and Middle Tennessee met on Sunday for a chance to play in the Sweet Sixteen. The Orange came off an impressive victory against Dayton in which they played the best they have all season. Middle Tennessee completed one of the best upsets in tournament history when they upset tournament favorite Michigan State by 9 points. Syracuse continued their hot shooting streak, but Middle Tennessee did not. The Orange got out to an early led due to poor shooting by the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee started the game shooting just 3-15 from the field. Their offense started to click towards the end of the first half and they got within 4 points at halftime. The second half, however, was another story. In the last 16 minutes of the game, Syracuse completely took over. The Orange held Middle Tennessee to 25% shooting and ended the game on a 35-11 run to win by 25.
Off the bench, forward Tyler Lydon played a huge role in the victory for Syracuse. The 6’9” freshman was a beast on the defensive end, grabbing 7 rebounds and blocking 6 shots. Lydon locked down the paint and didn’t allow Middle Tennessee to get anything done inside, forcing them to take a lot of shots from the perimeter.
Why Syracuse Won this Game
Syracuse won this game because of their incredible defensive play. Everyone played effective and tough defense for the Orange. The guards kept constant pressure at the top of the 2-3 zone and the forwards locked up the paint. Michael Gbinije led the defensive efforts for the guards, forcing Giddy Potts and Jaqawn Raymond to take a bunch of bad shots. Tyler Roberson and Tyler Lydon locked down the forwards for Middle Tennessee. They used the size advantage in their favor, with Roberson and Lydon grabbing 9 and 7 rebounds respectively. The Orange’s tough defense caused the Blue Raiders to turn the ball over 10 times, with Michael Gbinije leading Syracuse with 3 steals.
Star of the Game
It was tough to choose just one star for this game because the entire team played well. However, Michael Gbinije stood above the rest. The senior guard continued his excellent season by dropping 23 points while shooting 10-14 (71.4%) from the field and 3-7 (42.9%) from behind the arc. Gbinije played a well-rounded game, adding 3 steals, 3 assists, and a blocked shot as well.
Dud of the Game
Reggie Upshaw, who proved to be the player of the game for Middle Tennessee against Michigan State, was virtually nonexistent on Sunday. Against MSU Upshaw was a force for the Blue Raiders, scoring 21 point and shooting 8-14 (57.1%) from the field. Sunday’s game, however, was much different. Upshaw was never able to get it going, scoring only 2 points on 1-10 shooting.
Stat of the Day
That stat I found most important for this game was the three point percentage for Middle Tennessee. Just two days after making 11 of their 19 three point attempts, the Blue Raiders shot a measly 33% from behind the arc against Syracuse. Darnell Harris and Reggie Upshaw, who shot the lights out from the perimeter against MSU, shot a collective 1-6 from three. Without successful outside shooting, Middle Tennessee fells behind fast and were never able to catch up.
After this game, the Orange have proven wrong those who doubted they should be in the NCAA Tournament. They have demonstrated that they have the talent and the heart to win games when it matters and they are being rewarded with their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 2013. Syracuse travels to Chicago on Friday, March 25th to matchup against Domantas Sabonis and the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The game will air on CBS at 9:40pm.
Syracuse University ’18