On the familiar floor of the Verizon Center, Thursday was a night of dominance for Big East teams Marquette and Syracuse.
After No. 3 Marquette toppled No. 2 Miami, point guard Michael Carter-Williams scored 24 points to propel No. 4 Syracuse to a convincing 61-50 upset of No. 1 Indiana, completing a Big East sweep in the East Region Sweet 16.
Both of the winners, which lost conference games this year at Georgetown and are leaving the league next year, thrived Thursday by playing the rugged defense that has become the Big East’s signature. In the nightcap, the vaunted 2-3 zone of Syracuse confounded Indiana which committed 18 turnovers, one shy of its season high, and hit 34 percent of its shots, a season low. Syracuse also blocked 11 shots, the most this year against Indiana.
“They were just long and active,” Indiana junior Victor Oladipo said. “We just didn’t take care of the ball like we should have.”
It was a frustrating way for the nation’s preseason No. 1 to bow out. The NCAA’s third-best 3-point shooting team hit only 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, got sub-par work from starters Cody Zeller (10 points, nine rebounds), guard Jordan Hulls (zero points), who missed all five of his shots, and point guard Yogi Ferrell (zero points, one assist, four turnovers).
The backcourt of Syracuse (29-9) overpowered its counterparts from Indiana (29-7). The 6-6 Carter-Williams and 6-4 Brandon Triche (14 points) towered over Ferrell and Hulls, both 6-footers.
“I’m sure the size and the strength of the Syracuse guards had something to do with it,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “You’ve got to make enough shots against the zone to spread it out a little bit.”
Oladipo (16 points, three steals) was the only effective Hoosier, but he took only six shots in what might have been his final college game. He and Zeller now must decide whether to enter their names in the NBA draft, where they is projected to be among the top 10 players picked.
Syracuse ran off nine straight early points, as Triche ignited things with a fast-break dunk, Carter-Williams followed with two baskets and James Southerland (five points, seven rebounds, three blocks) hit a 3-pointer as the Orange took a 11-3 lead, which the Hoosiers never seriously challenged. The rest of the night was all about the Syracuse zone.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim explained that preparing for the zone in practice and facing Syracuse’s version of it, which includes five quick starters who measure between 6-4 and 6-9, are two different things entirely.
“When [teams] practice against it, it’s a false sense of security because you’re not playing against our defense,” Boeheim said. “It’s much like when Georgetown had Patrick Ewing. You could practice against their [zone] all you want. But at the end of the day, when you made your play, made your move, went to shoot it, he blocked it.”
The lead for Syracuse reached 18 in the first half when Carter-Williams (four steals, five rebounds, one turnover) drained a 3-pointer and C.J. Fair (11 points, nine rebounds) followed with a put-back.
Early in the second half, Indiana whittled the deficit to seven points on two occasions and six points once. Each time, Syracuse responded immediately with a basket. The last coming from Carter-Williams, who scored nine points in a span of 4:43 which doomed the Hoosiers for good.
“This is the best he’s played all year,” Boeheim said of Carter-Williams. “He was tremendous tonight. He was the difference in the game on offense, clearly.”