Syracuse barely got into the NCAA Tournament, getting the 68th and final spot. The Orange have now earned the right to keep playing in NCAA Tournament and no one will be excited about facing that zone defense. Tyus Battle had 17 points and Oshae Brissett scored 15 as 11th-seeded Syracuse zoned Michigan State out of the tournament, 55-53 on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16. Like for real, MSU averages 81 points a game and Syracuse walked into the game tonight and shit on their team with the zone. It was amazing to see.

When Brissett was asked about the way his team plays defense, he responded with, “No one plays zone like we do.” “We’re always moving — and we challenge every shot — so teams never get easy looks against us. That’s why nothing surprises me with our defense.”  Syracuse will face second-seeded Duke on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals, aka the Sweet 16.

Playing in his hometown with a chance to add another highlight-reel shot to this year’s NCAA Tournament, Spartans’ Cassius Winston missed an opportunity to win the game for the third-seeded Spartans with a shot from about 45 feet just before the buzzer. “It’s one of those shots you shoot as a kid, and I just came up short.” Winston said after being asked about his missed shot.

The Spartans came up short, long and wide all afternoon and didn’t make a basket in the last 5:41. The Orange forced the Spartans to basically only settle for 3-pointers all afternoon and it worked brilliantly in a duel between Hall of Fame coaches. Michigan State took a school record 37 shots beyond the arc, making just eight; Just typing that out made it seem even worse than it actually was. The Spartans couldn’t hit a shot if the basket was a soccer net…. that’s how bad it was.

Syracuse has won three straight since being sent to Dayton for the First Four. In low-scoring games, the Orange beat Arizona State in Dayton and TCU in the first round. They overcame playing three games in five days and essentially playing a road game, matching up with Michigan State about 75 miles from its campus with green-and-white clad fans packing the stands. As poorly as Michigan State shot, it had chances to escape with a victory. Miles Bridges missed a 3 with a chance to tie with 11 seconds left and teammate Joshua Langford missed a putback, but Syracuse turned the ball over with 7.9 seconds left.

The Orange fouled intentionally to avoid giving up a game-tying 3 twice in the closing seconds and the Spartans made two pairs of free throws to pull within a point both times. If you can’t recognize what Big Jim was doing by fouling than you’re high. That was very strategic coaching and I AM HERE FOR IT. Paschal Chukwu connected on one free throw with 2.4 seconds left and the miss gave Michigan State a chance to win in dramatic fashion, but Winston couldn’t pull it off. Syracuse took the lead for the first time in the second half with 4:22 left. And then the Orange held on as the Spartans missed their last 13 shots, plus Winston’s heave, which wasn’t recorded as a shot attempt.

Bridges’ college career likely is ending with a performance he would like to forget. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo acknowledged he expects Bridges to go pro. The sophomore star, who turned away from a chance to make millions in the NBA this season, was held scoreless for much of the first half and finished with only 11 points on 4 of 18 shooting, making just 3 of 12 shots. Syracuse attacked Michigan State’s defense as they made 24 of 31 free throws. The Spartans were kept on the outside looking in unless they were trying to score off an offensive rebound. They were 11 of 16 at the line and missed the front end of many one and ones to take even more potential points away.

Up next for the Orange is a mighty Duke team. This will be their 11th meeting and the Orange and Blue Devils will break a series tie and the winner will advance to the regional finals in Omaha, Nebraska. If Syracuse plays their zone just as well as they did today, the Orange will cause massive problems for the Blue Devils. It will for sure be a good one, and I can’t wait to watch.

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