PITTSBURGH – It had been a while since Syracuse played like the team that spent all season ranked in the top five.
In the second half Saturday, the top-seeded Orange looked like that group and maybe even better, pulling away to a 75-59 victory over eighth-seeded Kansas State in the third round of the East Regional.
“The second half, we made shots. We haven’t done that lately,” Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. “Our offense was not good in the first half. We had to pick it up on the offensive end. Our defense was very good the first half. We got killed on the boards. … Second half we did a much better job on the boards.”
Scoop Jardine had 16 points and eight assists, Dion Waiters had 18 points and James Southerland added 15 for the Orange (33-2), who didn’t wait until the final minutes to seal the win as they did in the second round against 16th-seeded North Carolina-Asheville.
“I think we picked it up on both ends of the floor. Especially on the defensive end, we got what we wanted. We were able to get transition baskets,” said Kris Joseph, who had 11 points. “There was a lot of space on the offensive end. We got open shots, open looks; we knocked `em down. This is the way I like us to play. Everyone was involved. The scoring balance – it was really balanced tonight. That’s how we’re supposed to play.”
They hadn’t looked that way lately, even in their wins.
Syracuse scored fewer than 70 points – it averages 74.5 – in five of the last seven games. The Orange shot better than 46.5 percent from the field – their mark for the season – only once, and the stretch included 3-point performances of 1 for 15, 5 for 20 and 3 for 14. Against UNC-Asheville, they shot 44.6 percent overall and 5 for 23 on 3s, and that included making one of their first 13.
“We won. We won the game. It don’t matter,” Jardine said. “It don’t matter if we played good or bad. We won and advanced. That’s what this tournament’s about. We saw a lot of upsets. A No. 2 lost to a No.15 seed. That’s what this tournament is about. We don’t worry about how we’re playing; we just worry about getting the `W.’ We’re advancing to the Sweet 16. That’s all that matters when we get there, too.”
Syracuse plays Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in Boston on Thursday night in the regional semifinals.
Rodney McGruder had 15 points for the Wildcats (22-11), who struggled from the field against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.
Neither team had its leading rebounder. Syracuse’s 7-foot Fab Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, was declared ineligible by the school for the rest of the tournament earlier in the week. About 20 minutes before the start of this game, Kansas State announced that Jamar Samuels would be held out over an eligibility issue.
“It was tough playing without him, especially one of our seniors. He’s one of the main leaders of the team,” McGruder said. “It was just tough, you know. It’s tough that he would never get to play another game in a Kansas State uniform. He missed his last game.”
Among those in the crowd at Consol Energy Center was Vice President Joe Biden, who went to law school at Syracuse.
This is Syracuse’s 17th appearance overall and third time in four years in the round of 16. The Orange, who had already set a school record for wins in a season, were ranked No. 1 for six weeks.
Southerland was 5 of 6 from the field in the second half, and Jardine and Waiters were both 5 of 9.
“It’s all a rhythm thing. James got in a rhythm; Scoop in the second half got in a rhythm. That’s what we want to see,” Joseph said. “We don’t want to take contested shots. We want easy, open shots. That’s what we got.”
With Waiters going 7 of 7 and Joseph 7 of 8, the Orange finished 23 of 29 from the free throw line, while the Wildcats were 13 of 19.
Rakeem Christmas, who moved into Melo’s spot in the starting lineup, had eight points and 11 rebounds for Syracuse, which shot 66.7 percent in the second half, including making all five of its attempts from behind the 3-point line.
Boeheim, whose 889 wins rank third on the Division I list behind Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight, earned his 47th NCAA tournament victory, tied with John Wooden for fifth place.
Jordan Henriquez had 14 points and 17 rebounds for Kansas State, which dominated the rebounding throughout, finishing with a 41-32 advantage. Henriquez had 11 of the Wildcats’ 25 offensive rebounds, but they were able to turn them into only 20 second-chance points.
Henriquez had trouble defensively and had to sit for 4 minutes in the second half because of foul trouble.
“They dragged me away from the rim,” he said. “ When I did contest, they usually got into my body, hit me with a pump fake, drew a couple fouls on me early in the second half.”
– Associated Press –