WASHINGTON – Indiana had no answers for Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and just as few solutions against the Orange’s offense Thursday night.The result was the No. 1 seed Hoosiers bowing out of the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 for a second year in a row, this time with a 61-50 loss to the No. 4 seed Orange.
IU (29-7) lost in the regional semifinals to Kentucky last year.
“We have had a heck of a ride with this group, and it doesn’t feel like that tonight, won’t feel like that for a couple of days, maybe longer,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “But the bottom line is that this program has come so far and I hope at some point in time the seniors, the guys on this team will remember that they did things that hadn’t been done, first off in 20 years at Indiana, but more importantly there are not any programs – whether this be Syracuse, Kentucky, Carolina, Duke, you name it – that are the blue blood programs of the country that have had to endure what these guys have had to endure.
“They have done it with perseverance, toughness, and improvement and they have done it with great class and they will all be better for it.”
Syracuse (29-9) will play No. 3 seed Marquette on Saturday in the East Regional finals with a chance to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta next week. The Golden Eagles (26-8) advanced with a 71-61 win over No. 2 seed Miami (29-7) in Thursday night’s first semifinal game.
“Our defense has been good all year, and I thought it was really good (against Indiana),” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Indiana presents a lot of problems, offensively, and we wanted to get on their three-point shooters. We did not want to let them get good looks, and we did that.”
The Hoosiers were baffled by the Orange’s defense.
Indiana committed 19 turnovers, leading to 13 Syracuse points. The Hoosiers went 16 of 48 from the floor and 3 of 15 on three-pointers. They also struggled on free throws, going 15 for 24.
Victor Oladipo led IU with 16 points, and Christian Watford and Cody Zeller added 13 and 10.
“They are long and athletic, and we haven’t seen it hardly at all this year,” Zeller said of the Orange’s zone. “It’s tough knowing what’s open, which is what they want. And they are the best at it.”
Oladipo, a junior, and Zeller, a sophomore, both said they hadn’t considered if this was their last game at Indiana. Both players could enter the NBA draft.
“I haven’t even been thinking about that,” Oladipo said. “I’m just really disappointed about the loss. I’m disappointed because we wanted to go all the way. I haven’t been thinking about my future at all, just the present.”
Syracuse, which had 10 blocks and 12 steals, had few problems on offense.
The Orange went 21 of 48 from the floor and hit 4 of 11 three-pointers. Michael Carter-Williams scored 24, and Brandon Triche and C.J. Fair added 14 and 11.
Syracuse’s starting guards – 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams and 6-4 Triche – outscored Indiana’s starting guards – 6-foot Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and 6-foot Jordan Hulls – 38-0.
“We made some really good defensive plays against them and offensively we wanted our guards to go on their little guards,” Boeheim said. “That was the best way to play offensively in this game.”
Indiana’s struggles started from the tip-off as the Hoosiers were limited to three points, all on free throws in the game’s first six minutes as the Orange took an 11-3 lead. Remy Abel scored IU’s first field goal on a layup with 13:48 to play in the half.
Syracuse pushed its lead to 29-11 with 3:37 to play in the first half before Indiana showed some fight in the closing minutes.
The Hoosiers outscored the Orange 11-5 in the final 36½7 minutes to cut their deficit to 34-22 at halftime.
Indiana committed 12 turnovers in the first half as Syracuse came up with seven steals and blocked six shots.
“They pretty much take away all the outlet passes, because they are so long, you may think something is open, but it is not,” Ferrell said. “Preparing for it is hard, because you don’t really recognize how long they are until you get out there and play them. Because maybe you don’t have the right guys in practice to play against.”
Indiana started the second half with a different look as Will Sheehey replaced Ferrell in lineup, and the Hoosiers responded with a 5-0 run in the first 16½7 minutes to cut the Orange’s lead to 34-27.
Oladipo hit a three-pointer with 14:11 to play to cut Syracuse’s lead to 38-32, but the Orange responded with a 14-5 run for a 52-37 lead with 7:25 to play.
“We just could never get that last big push like we needed to to get it to a two-point game or to tie the game up,” Watford said.
The Hoosiers’ deficit never got below double digits again as their season came to a close.
“It’s going to take me a long time,” Oladipo said of getting over the loss. “It is going to take a while. We apologize to Hoosier nation, you know, because I know they wanted it too and they deserve it as well. It’s disappointing to know we let them down.
“It just sucks, to be honest with you.”