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Syracuse’s zone too much for San Diego State

The Aztecs struggled to find offense all day and got in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of.

Syracuse v San Diego State Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

San Diego State had not seen a 2-3 zone at all during the regular season. So when they faced Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Orange’s notoriously tough zone defense gave the Aztecs fits all day as San Diego State fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament 78-62.

“We had a tendency of maybe struggling to find an offensive flow at times, but our defense always keeps up in the game. But tonight we let them create too much separation. They played well offensively. Obviously we struggled to shoot the ball. Their zone was very good. We were trying to find ways to attack it off the dribble, off the pass, off the high post. Weren’t successful at any of those things because of their high quality defense,” head coach Brian Dutcher said after the loss.

All night San Diego State struggled to create an offense against the zone. They settled for 40 3-point shots (only making 11 of them) and shot 22% from the field in the first half. Their struggles were marked by a scoring drought in the first half.

Syracuse wnet on an 18-0 run in the last nine and half minutes of the first half to go into half time with a 32-18 lead. San Diego State missed 12 straight field goals to close the first half and went over 10 minutes without scoring a point.

For the Orange, Buddy Boeheim (son of head coach Jim Boeheim) was the driving force for the Syracuse offense all night. He led the Orange with 30 points, seven made 3-pointers, and 73% shooting from the field. The Aztecs had no answers for Buddy all night as he was crucial for that big Syracuse run to close the first half.

“Buddy (Boeheim) got it going for himself, he had their (Syracuse’s) first 16-19 points,” San Diego State forward Matt Mitchell said. “He got on a hot streak and he never looked back. So, it was kind of tough to stop him after that, after letting him get a couple good looks and he got those to fall. The basket kind of looked like the ocean for him, and then it kind of seemingly [started to] look like that for the entire team. It was just tough to fight back while fight[ing] back on the tough shots that did not go in for us.”

After a slow shooting start for both teams, who combined to make four of the first 17 field goals early on, San Diego State went on a quick 6-0 run to take the lead and lead 18-14 midway through the first half.

It looked like the Aztecs had found its groove offensively. But just as quickly as San Diego State got hot, Syracuse turned up the heat defensively and the Azetcs went ice cold the rest of the half. The tough Syracuse zone that has given so many teams issues in the NCAA Tournament and the hot 3-point shooting for the Orange were too much for the Aztecs.

“They started making a lot of three-balls. Obviously, Buddy Boeheim was shooting well during this event, shooting the lights out...When they started building the lead, the basket started looking bigger for all of them and they shot well against us. And we are a pretty good defensive team. So, they hit some contested ones. I do not think we gave them a lot of easy looks,” Dutcher said.

Mitchell and Jordan Schakel led the Aztecs with 17 points each, but both struggled shooting making only 14 of 35 attempted field goals and making only 27% of their 3-pointers. It was a tough end of the season for the Aztecs who won both the conference regular season and tournament championship, and were hoping to make a deeper run after the NCAA Tournament was canceled last season when San Diego State wen 30-2.

The Orange will advance in the NCAA Tournament to face West Virginia in the second round tomorrow.