Syracuse zone stymies Western Michigan offense in double-digit win

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first_img Published on March 20, 2014 at 8:24 pm Contact Trevor: [email protected] | @TrevorHass BUFFALO, N.Y. — Western Michigan had played against the 2-3 zone before when it faced Eastern Michigan.It had seen and studied the defensive rotations, traps and closeouts. But none of that mattered when the Broncos met Syracuse on Thursday at First Niagara Center.“Playing against a zone it might help you a little bit,” SU forward Jerami Grant said, “but you can’t really simulate our zone in practice with our length and our activeness.”The No. 3-seed Orange forced 11 turnovers in the first half, suffocating No. 14-seed WMU and forcing it into errant passes and sloppy mistakes. Syracuse (28-5, 14-4 Atlantic Coast) stymied the Broncos (23-10, 14-4 Mid-American Conference) offensively, and quickly removed any chance of an upset en route to a 77-53 win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.SU’s defense led to easy transition buckets and opened things up offensively for a Syracuse team that’s struggled to put the ball in the hoop in stretches this season.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Overall, our defense was really good,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said, “and I thought that was the big key for us today.”The defensive firepower was there from the get-go. When the first under-16 timeout rolled around, the Broncos had already committed four turnovers.They were rarely able to get into their offense because they kept lackadaisically fumbling the ball away.Sometimes it was Western Michigan’s fault — like when Shayne Whittington swiveled his body and whipped the ball at the rim toward no one in particular, or when A.J. Avery essentially handed Trevor Cooney the ball.For the most part, though, the blunders were a product of SU’s tenacious defense. WMU head coach Steve Hawkins said Wednesday that it’s impossible to prepare for the Orange’s length.That proved to be all too accurate for the Broncos. Grant’s long arms broke up passes. Baye Moussa Keita pinned shots to the backboard.Cooney and Tyler Ennis pickpocketed WMU’s ball handlers on multiple occasions.At the end of the first half, Western Michigan had only taken 19 shots. It never even had a chance to shoot itself back into the game like so many underdogs have over the years against the zone.“We just wanted to come out here and play defense,” Cooney said. “That was the key for us. We knew if we played defense we would turn them over and get easy baskets.”Defense led to offense as it often does when the Orange is playing its best basketball. When asked if WMU’s inability to hold onto the ball was due to Syracuse’s defense or the Broncos’ poor offense, Grant didn’t hesitate.“I think it was us,” he said. “We showed how dangerous we can be when our defense is as intense as it was tonight.”For a Syracuse team that’s been anything but consistent offensively, defense has been the staple all season. When Cooney’s and C.J. Fair’s shots are off, SU has its defense to fall back on as a safety net.And Thursday, the offense stemmed from the defense. Syracuse wasn’t forced into nearly as many contested shots as it was against North Carolina State.Michael Gbinije said Syracuse finally got a chance to run up and down, something it’s been unable to do of late. He fed Grant for a thunderous throwdown in the first half after forcing a steal.“We were active,” SU assistant coach Gerry McNamara said. “It’s the most intense and active I’ve seen us in a few games.”Whenever a Western Michigan player dribbled, a Syracuse player stood in front of him. Whenever WMU looked to make a pass, arms flew everywhere to try to intercept it. And whenever the Broncos were actually able to muster a shot, it wasn’t a high-percentage one.They knew Eastern Michigan’s zone. But they weren’t even close to prepared for Syracuse’s.It was a whole different monster.And that’s why the Orange is still dancing and has a date with Dayton on Saturday in the Round of 32.“Everybody says ‘Oh, they have a similar kind of zone,’” Keita said. “But us, we kind of have a different zone.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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