Michigan marches to NCAA title game with a 61-56 victory over Syracuse

The Orange fade on college basketball's biggest stage, letting the chance slip away of returning Syracuse's first national championship since 2003.

Many phrases received six foot burials leading up to the Final Four:

Nobody expected Syracuse to make the Final Four.

The Syracuse 2-3 zone gives teams fits if they can’t shoot three pointers.

Jim Boeheim is retiring after this season.

The truthiness in each is debatable (except for the last one after tonight’s press conference—he is not). But one obvious point that few expected to come to light before Syracuse’s 61-56 loss to Michigan in the NCAA Championship semifinal proved to be the straw that broke the donkey’s back:

“They got it down to one (point). I couldn’t be prouder of this team.”
- Coach Jim Boeheim

Latest on SU at the Final Four

Latest Final Four updates, photos, videos and more.

You can’t win a game with one player—or one and a half for that matter.

Despite C.J. Fair’s best efforts to turn the paradigm on its head and carry the entire Orange Nation on his back, his 22 points and six rebounds fell just short of heroic.

Aside from Fair the Orange shot 40 percent (14-35) and 18 percent from three (2-11). Triche was the only other Orange to hit double figures with 11.

Short of suggesting he was the only player to step up, Fair acknowledged his role as the team’s leading scorer all season. “I feel as though I’ve got to produce at a high level for this team to have a shot to win. If I don't do well on offense then I don't think we have a good chance at winning.”

Playing on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer, Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland picked curious nights to turn in less than desirable performances. Between the two, the freshman ball handler and senior sharpshooter committed as many turnovers (seven) as they had points, making just 20 percent of their shots. To put that in perspective, the Orange had forced teams to commit more turnovers (67) than field goals made (61) in the first four games of the tournament.

“Looking at James, he definitely missed some threes that he normally makes,” Fair said. “When you depend on that player to make those shots it kind of hurts because you know he can make that. He had a little off night but he stuck with it.”

Southerland, the team’s second-leading scorer all season with 13.5 points per game, did contribute two timely baskets in the game’s final two minutes when the result was still very much in the air.

The first a thunderous dunk at 1:58 to cut the Michigan lead to four, and the second a long three with 41 seconds left to pull the Orange within a point.

If the SU season ended prematurely, Carter-Williams’ came to a close a minute and 14 seconds earlier when he lowered his shoulder into Tim Hardaway Jr. after handing the ball to James Southerland at the top of the arc and was called for a charge. Thirty seconds prior, Carter-Williams picked up his fourth foul on a dubious blocking foul that looked like a charge by Hardaway Jr. on the replay screen.

Triche, applying pressure with Carter-Williams, saw the play unfold better than most of the 75,000-plus in attendance and questioned the call. “If it wasn’t a charge, think it was, you know, a play where they shouldn’t have called a charge at all or a foul at all,” he said. “I thought he was in pretty good position.”

Triche’s spectacular college career ended in a similar fashion. With 28 seconds left and Syracuse down by two, Triche brought the ball up the court and drove the right side of the lane, beating Caris Levert. Jordan Morgan slid over to take the contact and Triche was called for a charge, sending him to the bench. “I was just trying to make a play for the team,” Triche said. “I probably should have made a better decision. Probably should have pulled up.”

As far as head coach Jim Boeheim was concerned, Syracuse shouldn’t have been in a position to tie or take the lead so late in the game. Michigan freshman Mitch McGary’s jumper from the free throw line put the score at 53-45 with just under four minutes to play. “They had the game pretty much under control with an eight-point lead,” Boeheim said. “They got it down to one. I couldn’t be prouder of this team.”

The defense clamped down as it did the entire second half. Michigan didn’t make another shot until Jon Horford’s dunk as the clock expired, relying on the free throw line to keep them ahead—though missed free throws let Syracuse back into the game three times in the final 1:09 of regulation.

“Second half we got our defense going a lot better and got back in the game in spite of our offense,” Boeheim said. Syracuse held their opponents—the best offense Boeheim feels his team faced all year—to just 25 second-half points. The difference came in the first half when Michigan exploited the vaunted 2-3 zone defense with six three-pointers and 10 points in the paint.

“Our activity level went up,” assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “In the first half we were letting the ball get in the high post a little too easily. The guards needed to do a better job of keeping it in the high post. When it got in there we were letting McGary throw it down to the baseline and that’s the forwards and the center. We all were a little bit at fault with a lack of activity in the first half. “

But basketball has two components, and both need to fire on all cylinders to win at the highest level.

“Our offense was not good in the first half or the second half,” Boeheim said. That is about as accurate a statement as he could make on a night when the four Syracuse starters not named CJ Fair only outscored the Michigan bench by one point.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.