Early exit: Syracuse falls to Dayton in third round of NCAA tournament

The Orange didn't make a three-pointer and only converted one shot outside the paint in a 55-53 loss to the Flyers.

BUFFALO-Tyler Ennis drove four straight times in the final two minutes of Syracuse loss to Dayton Saturday night. And four straight times, the freshman scored, bringing the Orange to within one point of the Flyers’ lead.

With 13 seconds left in the game and a 54-53 score on the board, head coach Jim Boeheim said he wanted to get the Ennis the ball so he could drive the ball to the basket. Instead, the freshman opted for the free throw jump shot.

Photo: Chad Cooper
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim looks disappointed after the Orangemen fell to the Dayton Flyers in the Saturday night game with a final score of 54-53.

He missed.

“In my head, I was kind of thinking they (Dayton) were anticipating me driving the ball.” Ennis said. “Looking back, I probably should have drove in and tried to get fouled, but in the moment I thought it was a good shot and I thought it was going in.”

The Orange had another opportunity to either tie or win after Dayton’s Dyshawn Pierre missed a free throw with seven seconds left in the game. In that situation, Syracuse was down 55-53. This time, Ennis opted for the three-pointer; a shot SU hadn’t made all game.

He missed again.

“The last shot was a great shot,” Boeheim said. “That was the right play, a chance to win the game. You don’t have enough time to get to the basket.”

It was an ugly game from start to finish, and SU’s stats were even uglier. The Orange shot 38.9 percent from the field on 21-of-54 shots, including 0-10 from three-point range. And of the 21 shots Syracuse did make, only one came outside the paint.

“It’s very hard to win making lay-ups, and that’s all you’re making against a good defensive team,” Boeheim said. “At some point in time, you need to knock something down from the perimeter, and we didn’t.”

Syracuse played catch-up from the beginning as Dayton jumped out to an early 11-4 lead with 11:37 left in the half, forcing Boeheim to call a timeout. The Orange went off in the next nine minutes, going on a 13-4 run to take its first lead with 2:37 left in the half. But again, missed jumper shots down the stretch allowed Dayton to retake a 20-18 lead going into halftime.

After one half, Jerami Grant hadn’t even attempted a shot, and Ennis and C.J. Fair were a combined 2-for-14 from the field, with Trevor Cooney pitching in with 1-for-8 on his own.

“In our games, we haven’t started particularly well.” Boeheim said. “Tonight was no exception.”

The poor shooting continued in the second half, as SU missed its first five shots before Rakeem Christmas laid in a shot to tie the game at 20-20 two minutes into the period. Dayton jumped out to another big lead midway through the second half, but another Boeheim timeout ignited a 14-5 SU run, giving the Orange a 40-37 lead with less than eight minutes to play.

Syracuse kept feeding Ennis down the stretch, as the freshman scored SU’s last 11 points, but Dayton responded with three-pointers every time to cut into the Orange’s lead. And before long, Syracuse found itself staring at a six-point deficit with less than 50 seconds left in the game.

Ennis tried his hardest to give the Orange yet another miraculous victory, but even his efforts were thwarted by the team’s overall inability to make jump shots.

“It’s tough to outscore teams when you’re not making threes and they’re making threes,” he said.

Ennis finished with a game-high 19 points, but shot 33 percent from the field on 7-of-21 shots. Fair chipped in with 14 points on 4-of-14 from the field with 10 rebounds and Michael Gbinije added eight points on 4-of-5 from the field.

“I thought we did an unbelievable job fighting to hang in there when you’re not making anything,” Boeheim said. “When you’re not making anything from the perimeter, it’s hard. It’s a hard game.”

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