By Kevin Sweeney
You can debate whether or not Syracuse should have even made the NCAA Tournament.
Whether they deserved to be there or not, the Orange now seem to be playing their best basketball of the season, and after another strong performance, are headed to the Sweet Sixteen.
Syracuse pulled away in the second half to easily knock off Middle Tennesee 75-50 Sunday night in second round action in Saint Louis, Missouri. Michael Gbinije led the way for the Orange with 23 points.
After a quick start set the tone for MTSU in their upset win over Michigan State, Syracuse made sure to keep the Blue Raiders from gaining momentum early in this one. The Orange ran out to a 24-12 lead just over 10 minutes into the contest and seemed in control in the early going. It was senior guard Trevor Cooney who led the early push, knocking down 3 3-pointers. However, the upset-minded Blue Raiders weren’t ready to go away. They finished the half on a 9-3 run to close the gap to just 4, despite leading scorers Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts combining for just 3 points in the half.
The Blue Raiders used the momentum from the end of the first half to make first run in the second half. A 3 from Potts gave MTSU their first lead since 5-4 with 18:33 to go in the ballgame. That’s when Syracuse made their closing push. They went on a 21-2 run spanning nearly 10 minutes to put the game away. It was the Orange’s patented zone defense that set the tone for the run. The length and athleticism of the Syracuse players bothered the Blue Raiders, especially Gbinije at the top and forward Tyler Lydon down low. Gbinije had 3 steals, and Lydon swatted 6 shots. The run was too much for the Blue Raiders to recover from, and Syracuse cruised down the stretch to a 75-50 win.
Syracuse advances to take on 11th seeded Gonzaga on Friday in Chicago, Illinois. For Middle Tennessee, the season may be over, but the future is bright. They should return their top 2 scorers next season with the experience of an NCAA Tournament run.