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Sunday, Mar 18, 2018 at 7:43 pm

Syracuse Stuns Third-Seeded Michigan State to Advance to the Sweet 16

By Nick Dugan

DETROIT, M.I. – “Was this an upset,” a reporter asked Tyus Battle. Battle didn’t hesitate. “No,” he said. “Not in my opinion.”

But, on paper, Syracuse (23-13) defeating third-seeded Michigan State (30-5) in Detroit 55-53 – certainly an upset.

The Spartans entered the postseason ranked fifth in the country and touted one of the best all-around offensive units in the country. However, in the final 5:41 of Sunday’s Round of 32 matchup, MSU failed to hit a shot. The team missed its final 13 attempts from the field, including four in the last minute of play.

“We got beat because we couldn’t make a shot,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “And I thought we had some good shots. It was really disappointing.”

After coming out and scoring 82 points against Bucknell on Friday, the Orange held the Spartans to just 25 points in the first half on 8-of-28 shooting.

“They felt the pressure,” Oshae Brissett said. “No one really plays a zone like ours.”

After 19:58 of even basketball, it looked as if Michigan State finally found the key to ignite a run. After Matthew Moyer blocked a last-second Matt McQuaid three-point jumper, McQuaid grabbed the rebound in the air and hoisted a desperation shot. Moyer attempted to block the second shot from behind but could only watch is it knocked off the backboard and into the net.

“It was like an alley-oop,” McQuaid said. “[I] just caught it and shot it because there was little time to get [it] off.”

It looked as if the Spartans would carry that momentum into the second half. Tom Izzo’s group knocked down three three-pointers in the first five minutes of the frame to take a six-point lead. But the Orange wouldn’t go away.

‘Cuse made it the free-throw line 23 times in the second half and converted on 19 of them. And, as it had over the last two games, the Syracuse zone forced MSU to take some deep shots.

“We win every game based off of our defense,” Battle said. “Our big guys did a great job down low making it tough for them.”

Still, Marek Dolezaj, Pashachal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe all had three fouls by the 11:53 mark of the second half. Then, with 6:29 remaining, Frank Howard picked up his fifth foul, leaving him to watch the rest of the game from the bench.

“I didn’t think I got the guy, but I didn’t see the replay,” Howard said. “I’ve got to be smarter than that, you know especially in that time.”

His replacement – Braedon Bayer – once a walk-on to the Syracuse roster.

Bayer didn’t register a point in six minutes, but contributed a big block, as well as a steal to help secure the win.

“He was ready, man,” Howard said. “We’ve been preaching to him ‘be ready’ and he finally got his opportunity.”

But, when the team needed a boost, they got just that from Battle. With a 50-49 lead with just 47 seconds remaining, he drained a step-back jumper from the left elbow to put his team up three.

“I’m just glad I finally made one when I had to,” Battle said. “I was missing a lot of jump shots the entire game. You can’t lose confidence in situations like that. People miss shots, but if you stop shooting the ball, that proves you lost confidence.”

Now it’s on to Omaha, Nebraska where Syracuse will face a familiar Duke Blue Devils team on Friday afternoon. The Orange suffered a 60-44 loss in Cameron Indoor back in February. But, after nearly a month and three NCAA Tournament games, the players know the Sweet 16 matchup will be different.

“We’ve played them before,” Brissett said. “So we’re going to go in there, change what we do and just get ready for them.”

nsdugan@syr.edu | @nsdugan