Men's basketball makes tournament chance count, beats Arizona State in First Four

Syracuse kept its cool down the stretch in a back-and-forth 60-56 win over the Sun Devils in Dayton, Ohio.

DAYTON, Ohio — 'Cardiac Cuse' was the case Wednesday night as Syracuse beat Arizona State 60-56 in the NCAA First Four.

With both schools facing media and fan scrutiny as to whether they deserved a shot at the NCAA tournament, Syracuse held off the Sun Devils with six free throws in the final minute to earn an 11th-seed slot against 6th-seed Texas Christian on Friday.

From the opening tip, both squads wanted to jump out to a quick start and avoid early mistakes.

Syracuse point guard Frank Howard turned the ball over on two of the initial possessions, however, this did not seem to worry SU head coach Jim Boeheim. 

“We can't have that," Boeheim said. "He knows that.”

The junior made up for it, stealing the ball from fellow guard Shannon Evans II and grabbing a layup for a 7-3 lead.

The teams went back and forth trading points between errant three-point attempts and free throws. The Orange defense limited the Arizona State defense to outside looks or inside shots, both of which Syracuse had a sizable height advantage.

“A lot of teams try to beat us from the three-point line," SU guard Tyus Battle said. "And we know that they can shoot the ball.” 

Multiple times during the first half the Sun Devils were able to draw fouls both offensively and defensively, resulting in six Orange fouls in the first 8 minutes.

A Battle 3 pointer gave the Orange its largest lead of the half at 21-16 with 7 minutes remaining in the first until Evans came right back with a three of his own. With the Sun Devils pressing nearly the entire game, the Orange offense needed to rely on other teammates to make chances. Freshman forward Marek Dolezaj took advantage of a chance and gave the Orange the lead again. The Slovakian scored the final basket of the first half, a jumper off an assist from Howard, to give the Syracuse a 30-28 lead at halftime.

The Sun Devils scorched their way into the second half, with guards Tra Holder and Evans II grabbing a pair of threes. Holder weaved his way through the Syracuse 2-3 zone forcing Boehiem into an timeout down 36-30 only 90 seconds into the half.

“We were making plays. We were making shots. We were doing, we were just executing our offense,” Arizona State’s Kodi Justice said.

Brissett opened the scoring for the Orange in the second half, too, with a 3 pointer off a Dolezaj pass.

The Orange offense continued to struggle for early parts of the second half, relying on tough shots under the basket. During one possession, Battle missed a dunk and a three leading to a Paschal Chukwu rebound. But the ball was stripped from the center’s hands.

The Sun Devils went on a 5-minute scoreless streak, however, Syracuse could not capitalize on missed chances by the basket to tie the game at 42. It ended up being costly, as Evans II found Justice for a three. Minutes later, Justice hit another from beyond the arc to increase the lead to 49-42.

“You've just got to be able to attack certain areas iwth the middle, trying to get the ball to the middle,"  Justice said. "With that we can kick the ball out and get shots, be able to stay in attack mostly.”

Syracuse stormed back, creating its own run. Battle’s short shot landed in the hands of a leaping Chukwu, who slammed it home to make it a one-possession game before Brissett hit a jumper and made the free throw.

“We ran something different and it happened to work," Boeheim said. "We ran the same play four times in a row and scored all four times.”

Justice came in clutch again for Arizona State, silencing the Syracuse crowd with a dagger from beyond the arc to retake the lead with 4 minutes to go. Brissett scored inside to tie the game at 52, and Battle crossed Holder over and drained a three to give Syracuse a 55-52 lead. 

“He's made it all year," Boeheim said. "In end-of-game situations where we've needed a shot he's made the step-back. It's been good for him.”

Justice scored inside to make it a one-point game and forced Arizona State to foul with under a minute remaining. The final six points all came from the line for Syracuse, who were shooting a mere 44 percent before the final sequence.

Chukwu scored three free throws around a Sun Devil layup. A missed three from Evans II saw the ball land in Howard’s hands, and the junior guard scored a pair of free throws to give the Orange a four-point cushion.

“He shoots countless amounts of free throws at practice, Coach (Allen) Griff(in). I see him knock down free throws every day. So I was confident with him up there,” Howard said.

Syracuse has a mere 46 hours until its next game versus Texas Christian in Detroit, slated for a 9:40 p.m. tip-off.

“These guys have to expend every bit of energy they have when they play," Boeheim said. "So it will be a real challenge for us.”


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