Indiana State won a lot of friends Friday night. The Sycamores drew plenty of oohs and aahs from an appreciative crowd of 20,164 at Quicken Loans Arena hoping to witness an upset by the 14th-seeded Sycamores.
Unfortunately for ISU, it couldn’t win against a big, tough Sycacuse team in a second-round NCAA Tournament East Regional game. The No. 3-seeded Orange defeated the Sycamores 77-60 as ISU’s season came to an end.
It wasn’t without its interesting moments. After trailing by as much as 17 in the first half, ISU got within four with 15 minutes left in the game, and was starting to win over the neutral fans at the Q hoping for an upset.
But ISU (20-14) was deep-sixed by a stretch where it failed to score on eight straight possessions. During that dry spell for ISU, Syracuse went back in front by 13.
Syracuse center Rick Jackson proved too big for the Sycamores to contain in the paint. The 6-foot-9 senior had 23 points and seven rebounds. C.J. Fair added 14 off the bench for the Orange.
Jake Kelly led ISU with 12 points, but the Sycamores couldn’t get anyone going consistently. Syracuse’s zone defense proved a tough nut to crack and the Orange kept ISU’s shooters from getting untracked.
ISU matched Syracuse bucket-for-bucket in the early going. Aaron Carter got ISU on the board with a breakaway dunk that showed the Orange that ISU was a little more athletic than they thought.
However, Syracuse wasn’t fazed on the offensive end, using its huge size advantage and dead-eye shooting by Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph to take a 14-11 lead.
ISU then went into an offensive slump and Syracuse put the hammer down. Syracuse went on a 17-3 run spanning the 14:31 to 7:01 mark as the Orange took a 31-14 lead. At one point during the run, Syracuse was shooting close to 75 percent from the field as big men Jackson, Fab Melo and Joseph toyed with the much-smaller Sycamores in the lane.
The Orange also shot 42.9 percent from 3-point range in the first half.
But ISU didn’t capitulate. An 8-0 run – fueled by a 3-pointer by Jordan Printy and five straight points from rejuvenated Jake Kelly – gave ISU a much more manageable nine-point deficit with 5:31 left.
With Syracuse up 11, ISU squandered three straight chances to cut into the Orange's lead. When C.J. Fair hit a pair of free throws with 1:51 left to make it 38-25, it appeared the Sycamores would go into the halftime locker room on a down note.
Kelly gave ISU a lifeline. He drained a contested 3-pointer from the corner with 1:18 left, and after Dion Waiters missed a jumper, Kelly scored on a layup after an ISU offensive rebound to make it 38-30 with 31 seconds left.
Syracuse seemed to catch a break right before halftime. ISU made a stop on Syracuse's would-be last possession of the half. With the half about to end, R.J. Mahurin tried to pass it to Aaron Carter for a long-range heave, but Joseph intercepted the pass and threw up a 30-footer that found the bottom of the net.
It appeared Syracuse would have a 41-30 halftime lead, but the officials reviewed the shot and waived it off as coming after the buzzer. The Sycamores could consider it a victory that it trailed by just eight after Syracuse had led by 17.
ISU got closer. ISU was aggressive on the defensive end and penetrated Syracuse’s zone with more verve than it had in the first half, and a pair of Odum free throws at 15:56 cut Syracuse's lead to 42-38.
Then the drought came. The Sycamores left a few three-point attempts short and three turnovers during its eight-possession cold snap that allowed the Orange to (gradually) rebuild its lead to 51-38.
ISU stayed within range for a while. An Aaron Carter layup at 7:47 made it 56-46, but Brandon Triche hit a 3-pointer and then a Jackson bucket put the Orange up 15 with 6:13 left.
ISU couldn’t string together any 3-pointers to make a run. The Orange were extremely successful at harrassing ISU’s shooters as they left no gaps for the Sycamores to exploit. ISU was 1-of-8 from 3-point range in the second half, not making a three until the game was out of hand in the final two minutes.
The Sycamores faded in the final minutes as Syracuse’s lead ultimately hit its high-water mark of 20.
Carter, Kelly and Isiah Martin played their final games in a Sycamore uniform in the NCAA Tournament, the first senior class that could make that claim since 2001.