Syracuse beats MTSU to advance to Sweet 16

The Syracuse Orange are off to the Sweet-16 after a dominant second half pushed them past Middle Tennessee State.

ST. LOUIS — The Syracuse basketball team showed in its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Dayton what type of team the Orange can be if everyone shows up, Tyler Lydon said afterward. 

On Sunday, in their second-round game against upset-minded 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State, it seemed like everyone showed up for 10th-seeded Syracuse in the second half. 

The result was a big run, fueled by senior guard Michael Gbinije, Lydon and DaJuan Coleman, that turned a close game into a blowout with the Orange running away with a 75-50 victory at Scottrade Center to secure a berth in the Sweet 16. 

“I think it was just our defensive intensity,” said Lydon, a freshman forward, of the difference in the second half. “That was our focus for the night, to really give it to them on the defensive end and that’s what we were able to do. We were able to space out on their shooters and locate everybody and really just lock down.”

Gbinije shook off a rough shooting game in the first round and led all scorers with 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including three 3-pointers, in 38 minutes. Lydon added 14 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots. Junior forward Tyler Roberson had 12 points and nine rebounds. Senior guard Trevor Cooney added 12 points.

“He’s been doing this all season,” Roberson said of Gbinije. “… It’s just another night for him, really. He showed up, he made shots and he led us to the win.”

Syracuse (21-13) advances to play No. 11 seed Gonzaga (28-7), which beat third-seeded Utah 82-59 to advance, in Chicago. 

“We proved to everybody we belong here,” Coleman said. “We just want to keep it going.”

Syracuse had lost five of its last six games before beating seventh-seeded Dayton (25-8) on Friday, avenging their 2014 NCAA Tournament Round of 32 loss to the Flyers. But now, after back-to-back wins to open the tournament, those late-season struggles seem long ago. 

“We’re not playing in North Carolina and Louisville and at Florida State,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “That’s the difference.”

Middle Tennessee State (25-9) was attempting to become just the second No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16. The Blue Raiders knocked off second-seeded Michigan State on Friday, the biggest upset of the 2016 Tournament.

Middle Tennessee made 11 3-pointers and shot 56 percent from the field against Michigan State. The Blue Raiders had open looks against the 2-3 zone defense of Syracuse on Sunday, but didn’t knock them down in the first half. 

MTSU was 11-32 from the field (34.4 percent) and 3-11 from 3-point range (27.3%) over the first 20 minutes, but Syracuse wasn’t able to pull away. 

The Orange led 31-27 at halftime behind nine points apiece from Gbinije and Cooney. 

Middle Tennessee knocked down two 3-pointers early in the second half, from Jaqawn Raymond and Giddy Potts, to take a 33-31 lead. 

“In the second half, kind of got the crowd back in it and they took over,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said. “Their length bothered us around the goal. We couldn't get anything in there. And I just thought their perimeter players are absolutely terrific in the open floor.”

Syracuse led 40-39 when the Orange went on an 21-2 run over the next 8:30, keyed by seven points from Gbinije and five from Tyler Lydon, to open up the game. 

The Blue Raiders missed 15 of 16 field goal attempts during the run, including nine consecutive misses, before a 3-pointer from Raymond with 5:57 remaining cut Syracuse’s lead to 61-44.

Coleman said the defense in taking control of the game was defense.

“We stopped them, took away the 3-point shot,” he said, “and they didn’t really get nothing inside.”

That defense, like it did in the first-round win over Dayton, proved to be the difference maker once again and helped the Orange advance to the Sweet 16 — one of six Atlantic Coast Conference teams to do so. 

“It feels real good,” Coleman said. “That’s a big accomplishment for us with the season we had and we just want to keep going. We’re on to Chicago next.”

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