The Orange Lose a Heartbreaker
Mitch McGary, all six-foot ten-inches of him, was as good as advertised all game long and Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense came up just short in Saturday's national semifinal.
McGary, the Michigan freshmen who has led his team in scoring throughout the NCAA tournament, just missed a triple-double, scoring 10 points, pulling down 12 rebounds, and dishing out six assists as his Wolverines did just enough against the vaunted zone, winning 61 - 56.
Michigan (31-7) started out hot, with both Spike Albrecht and Trey Burke hitting 30 foot-plus three pointers as the Wolverines raced to a 36 - 25 halftime lead. The 36 points being the most Syracuse gave up in the opening half all tournament long, just three points shy of Marquette's point total against the Orange in the Elite Eight.
And a big reason why Michigan was able to hit shots against one of college basketball's best defenses was McGary - who was able to set up near the foul line on offense and find open teammates as well as grabbing 5 offensive boards.
Meanwhile, Syracuse (30-10) struggled to defend againsy the Wolverines in the first twenty minutes and struggled to score against Michigan's own stifling defense. C.J. Fair was the only Orange who was able to get anything going, scoring 22 points. But the junior forward took 20 shots, making just nine.
The only other Syracuse player scoring in double-figures was Brandon Triche, who fouled out late in the game on a questionable charge call. Starting point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who also fouled out late, finished with just 2 points and James Southerland, the sharp-shooting senior, was held to five points.
As a team, Michigan held Syracuse to just under 42% shooting from the field, an even worse 21% from three point range. But despite the trouble on both ends of the floor, Syracuse was able to trim the deficit to a single point with less than a minute to play. But Triche's offensive foul proved to be the difference as Michigan collected some late free throws and got a Jordan Morgan slam for the exclamation point, as John Beilein gained his first-ever victory against Jim Boeheim (1-9).
Now Michigan, with the red-hot McGary anchoring the lane, advances to its first championship game since 1989, while Syracuse faces a summer full of questions. Southerland and Triche, two seniors, have played their last games in a Syracuse uniform, but the the talk will turn to Carter-Williams and Fair. Carter-Williams is likely to throw his name into the NBA draft ring, being a projected lottery pick. But Fair, who may go in the first round should he leave but is no lock, has a big decision to make.
There's even some question that Boeheim may be calling it quits after the season, given his age (68) and the school's move from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Boeheim, for his part, has denied any interest in retiring throughout the last month.
But while there are big question marks surrounding the team, Syracuse fans can certainly expect Boeheim's 2-3 zone to be back at in October. The only other question being: will the zone still be working come championship Monday next year?
Saturday, February 13, 2016, Watertown, NY