Syracuse's Late-Season Collapse Complete After Upset Loss to Dayton

Tom Weir@@tomweirsportsFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2014

USA Today

Syracuse long has been famous for its 2-3 zone defense. But it was banished from the NCAA tournament Saturday night because of an 0-of-10 offense.

That was the final count on the Orange's errant efforts on three-point shots while falling 55-53 to 11th-seeded Dayton. It's also what should be written on the tombstone of this season's team.

Seldom, if ever, has college basketball witnessed a team look so good for so long and then crumble so fast. Syracuse started 25-0 but heads home from nearby Buffalo, where it might as well have been playing a home game, with six defeats in its final nine games.

Syracuse made the area beyond the arc its personal Bermuda Triangle while spending most of the night playing from behind. Trevor Cooney was 0-of-4 out there, and Tyler Ennis was 0-of-5 from long distance.

"I thought we did an unbelievable job fighting to hang in there when you're not making anything," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said at his press conference afterward, scrounging for a silver lining.

Boeheim said his team stayed competitive until the final seconds by finally abandoning jumpers and driving to the basket. But he readily conceded that, "But sooner or later, to win, usually you've got to make something from the perimeter."

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Tyler Ennis scored Syracuse's final 11 points but couldn't hit the game-winner.
Tyler Ennis scored Syracuse's final 11 points but couldn't hit the game-winner.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Syracuse never did, but credit Ennis for being the one Syracuse player who looked like he wanted to play offense down the stretch. He scored the Orange's final 11 points. But he also went for the win on his final shot, a missed three, of course.

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

Boeheim's one complaint about his gutsy freshman was the missed jumper he took with 13 seconds left.

"With 13 seconds to go, we wanted to get it to Tyler and drive the ball," the coach said. "We'd just driven the ball for three baskets, and I don't know why he settled for the jump shot. There was plenty of time. He had space. I'm not sure why."

But the real reason Syracuse lost, as Boeheim admitted, was, "The only thing we could make was a layup."

According to TBS, the last time Syracuse left the floor without scoring a three-pointer in a game was 1995, and the last time it happened to Syracuse in the NCAA tournament was 1994.

But the offensive negatives don't stop there.

Syracuse trailed 20-18 at the half, its lowest point total of the season for the first 20 minutes. And the only other time all season the Orange scored fewer than the 53 they had against Dayton was in a 49-44 victory against Miami on Jan. 4. 

Worst Three-Point Nights in NCAA Tourney
Saint Louis0-of-152014vs. Louisville
Winthrop0-of-132002vs. Duke
Kansas State0-of-132008vs. Wisconsin
UMass0-of-111998vs. Saint Louis
UConn0-of-101992vs. Ohio State
Syracuse0-of-102014vs. Dayton

But Syracuse did claim some turf in the NCAA tournament record book. The 0-of-10 performance ties the Orange for fifth on the list of most missed threes by a team that didn't make any. And they can perhaps take comfort in hoping their 0-of-10 will get overlooked, given that Saint Louis set a record by going 0-of-15 on threes in Saturday's loss to Louisville.

Boeheim foreshadowed this shooting disaster with a comment to TBS just before the second half began.

Asked what his offense needed to do to get going, Syracuse's coach gruffly replied, "Make some shots. I think it would be a good idea."

Still, three-pointers weren't Syracuse's only problem area.

Senior forward C.J. Fair, Syracuse's top scorer this season with a 16.5 average, never shot a three-pointer and still was 4-of-14 from the floor.

"They're a small team, but they're scrappy, and they're quick to the ball and rotations," Fair said of the Flyers. "Every time we put the ball down, they got a hand in there."

Dayton's marksmanship wasn't much better, as the Flyers shot 41.3 percent overall to Syracuse's 38.9.

But the difference was that Dayton hit on seven of its 16 three-point tries, including a huge one by Jordan Sibert with 50 seconds left. That gave Dayton a 52-46 cushion that just barely held up.

If Syracuse's players lacked the legs to make a strong closing charge, it's understandable. Ennis played all 40 minutes, Fair was good for 39, Rakeem Christmas went 37 and Jerami Grant put in 34 before fouling out in the final minute.

Dayton is making its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1984.
Dayton is making its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1984.Elsa/Getty Images

You'd think a team with Syracuse's prestige and pedigree would have a bench. Dayton certainly did, going 11 deep into its roster and getting at least 12 minutes from eight different players.

The Atlantic 10 team heads to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1984 in grand style. The Flyers defeated a Big Ten team, Ohio State, in their opener, and now have added an ACC team to their list of victims.

Dayton coach Archie Miller let out a sigh of relief when Ennis' final three-point try clanged off the rim. 

"If you're going to beat Syracuse in here, you need a little luck," Miller told TBS after the game. "Fortunately that last one didn't go in."

Nor did a whole bunch of others.

Tom Weir covered 15 Final Fours as a columnist and reporter for USA Today.