Syracuse’s season slips away in 69-65 Sweet 16 loss to Duke

first_img Published on March 24, 2018 at 12:37 am Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer OMAHA, Neb. — Matt Moyer kicked out both his legs and let out one final, desperate yell from the Syracuse bench. He was watching Duke’s Gary Trent Jr. make two free throws to open a four-point lead with 5.9 seconds left. He was watching the season slip away.As the buzzer sounded, Frank Howard and Marek Dolezaj dapped up near the free-throw line, both stoic. Oshae Brissett bit his jersey and gimped with his head down on the way to the postgame handshake line.“It’s over,” Moyer said of his thoughts when he saw Trent make the free throws. “This run’s been so incredible. To have the feeling that it’s done hurts.”For a week and a half, No. 11 seed Syracuse (23-14, 8-10 Atlantic Coast) was the hot-button topic on college basketball’s biggest stage. The last team in the NCAA Tournament found a magic touch. An already strong defense elevated to a nearly impenetrable level, a master class of rotation and a suffocating 2-3 zone that led to three wins in five days, including an upset over No. 3 Michigan State in the Round of 32.Syracuse came into the game knowing it would need to supplement its formula with some more offense. It delivered with its highest scoring output of this year’s NCAA Tournament. It still wasn’t enough in a 69-65 season-ending loss to No. 2 seed Duke (29-7, 13-5) from CenturyLink Center in Omaha.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“Duke, I think, is a great basketball team,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “They’ve got as good an offensive team as you’re going to find … tonight we were better offensively, but not quite good enough.”Boeheim delivered the expectation for these kinds of games back in October, during his media day press conference. He thought this year’s team to be better defensively than last year’s aberration. He also noted that the team would be much weaker offensively.Last year’s Syracuse team came in with massive expectations following the unexpected Final Four run in 2016. The Orange ended that year in the NIT. In a presser following the season, Boeheim said that he wouldn’t talk about preseason expectations again. Later in that same presser, he noted that Syracuse made the NIT in 2002, before it went on to win the national championship in 2003.This year’s modest expectations escalated behind the Orange’s 11-2 nonconference start. SU then had its first-ever losing record in the ACC, almost letting a chance in the Tournament slip away. Almost.March offered a chance for Syracuse to put doubts in the past. Tyus Battle said the team was “constantly trying to prove ourselves in this Tournament,” after the win over MSU. SU unapologetically busted brackets as national media spent a week lamenting the irrelevant point of if Syracuse deserved a spot in the Tournament to begin with.“They can beat anybody,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Because they’ve got one of the greatest coaches of all time and they understand what they do well.”MORE COVERAGE: Bourama Sidibe to undergo surgery ‘as quickly as possible’Oshae Brissett plans to return to Syracuse for his sophomore season What Syracuse did better than anything was fight back. It was down at the half against TCU and Michigan State. The Orange doubled down on its defense and scraped by on offense. It beat TCU 57-52 and it beat Michigan State, 55-53.The Blue Devils went on a 10-0 run to end the first half, opening up an eight-point lead. Syracuse wouldn’t let anything change — it immediately countered.Syracuse opened up its second half on an 8-2 run, cutting the Duke lead to one. It included Howard’s first made shot of the game: a floater through contact. Brissett, who went 1-of-8 in the first half, started finishing through contact.The Orange wasn’t finding ways to fully level the field. Twice, the Orange got and-1s to cut the Duke lead to 1. Twice, Syracuse clanked the free throw.Still, Syracuse wouldn’t let the Blue Devils sneak away. At two different points, Duke opened up nine-point leads. It got loud and slapped the floor. It forced timeouts from Boeheim. But the lead never grew to double digits. The Orange wasn’t letting go.“It does suck. You always want to be in the lead,” Brissett said. “The fact that we were able to bring it close made us know that we could win this game. They weren’t pushing forward. They weren’t hitting the shots that they could have.”The Orange felt it could win any game it wanted to. And it made its unexpected run to Omaha alongside three teams it had already faced this year. Three groups that helped define SU’s season.There was No. 1 seed Kansas, who Syracuse faced in Miami on Dec. 2, when KU handed the Orange its first loss of the season. Still, SU was 6-1 at the time, and competed with the-then No. 2 team in the country. There wasn’t cause for concern.There was fifth-seeded Clemson, who visited the Carrier Dome in the regular-season finale. Syracuse was coming off a debilitating road-loss to Boston College the week before. But SU clawed out a 55-52 win, a feel-good end-of-season performance turned blueprint for the unexpected Sweet 16 run.Then there was Duke. The team that held Syracuse to a season-low 44 points on Feb. 24, a disheartening game that put into question whether SU could truly compete with a powerhouse like the Blue Devils.With 51 seconds left in Friday’s game, Brissett sat alone under the Syracuse basket, writhing in pain while holding his leg. Trent Jr. had just hit a floater after draining away nearly the entire shot clock, opening up a five-point Duke lead. Boeheim turned away and walked back down toward his bench, his eyes gazing down to the floor.“Right now it hurts because we made a late run,” Howard said. “Fought through so much adversity through the year. We all understand what we did this year.”All year, the Orange held on to the belief that it could make the run. It didn’t matter about the team’s low scoring outputs. It didn’t matter that a Howard Washington injury and an unexpected departure from Geno Thorpe brought the team to seven-regular rotation players. It didn’t matter that one of them, Bourama Sidibe, had been rendered far less effective because of a bad knee that will require offseason surgery.For so long, the Orange held on. It played like the team that beat Clemson, the team that started the run.Against Duke, it finally lost its grip. Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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