A lot was made of the tailspin that Syracuse went into at the end of the regular season. Having lost 5 of their last 7 games, people were wondering if perhaps that had peaked earlier in the season when they were unbeaten through 25 games and were ranked number 1 in the country. Well many of those doubt were erased early on in their dominating 2nd round performance vs. Western Michigan on Thursday. Dayton faced Ohio State in the first game of the tournament on Thursday and faced an uphill fight. Clearly, Ohio State had been a final four contender over the previous 5 years and had taken a slight step back this season. They were still considered the favorite against a Dayton team that had been one of the six bids given to the Atlantic 10 conference. What occurred after the opening tip was arguably the best game of the day and in the end Dayton was able to prevail after a frantic final minute that saw multiple lead changes. It set the tone for what was a crazy first day of the dance and set the stage for an interesting 3rd round matchup of a strong zone defense team vs. a strong outside shooting team.
In a game that featured 15 lead changes it came down to the final seconds. With his team down by 1 and 20 seconds left, Ohio State star point guard Aaron Kraft (who it seems like he has been in college for 15 years) drove down the lane and hit a beautiful reverse layup that gave them that his team a 1 point lead with 10 seconds left. The Flyers called timeout and called a play to get the ball to Vee Sanford who drove the ball right at Kraft and hit a runner in the lane from a few feet away to give Dayton the lead with only a few seconds left. On the ensuing possession Kraft made a determined drive to the hoop and somehow found his way through 3 defenders to get a shot off from about 10 feet away that rolled off the rim and allowed the Flyers to advance. Devin Oliver and Dyshawn Pierre had 11 and 12 points respectively. Sanford came off the bench for 10 and the winning hoop.
Syracuse looked much more like the team that started the season off 25-0. They combined a suffocation zone defense with an all around offense that led to an easy 77-53 win. One concern had been the poor play of guard Trevor Cooney during the team’s end of season slide and he erased much of that doubt with an 18-point performance. C.J Fair had 14 points and 11 rebounds despite constant double teams. Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis each had 16 points while Ennis dished out 6 assists.
The key to this matchup is if Dayton will be able to find a way to score enough points to offset Syracuse. There is no way they are going to score 60 points and advance to the sweet 16. The bottom line is they must be prepared to beat the zone and make the outside shot.
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