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Three Key Takeaways.
- Gonzaga attacks Syracuse zone creatively. The Zags had great ball movement early on, which helped them build an early 18-8 lead. Guards found Kyle Wiltjer (23 points, five rebounds) on flashes to the post, Domantas Sabonis (19 points, 17 rebounds) on quickly conceived entry passes, and Gonzaga was generally patient in attacking Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. That ball movement disappeared in the last five minutes of the first half and first five of the second, as the Syracuse length and constant pressure finally began to force a few Gonzaga turnovers. But Gonzaga emerged from a Mark Few timeout with renewed purpose, and despite shooting just one free throw in the first 37 minutes of the game, rediscovered their offensive flow. One especially effective tactic employed: the use of a quicker tempo to find Sabonis for post touches before the zone was fully set.
- Gonzaga meltdown or Syracuse heroics? Or both? It wasn’t pretty, but Syracuse advanced on the back of Michael Gbinije and some timely plays on both sides of the ball. Gonzaga channeled their inner Northern Iowa in coughing the ball up twice on their own side of halfcourt in the last two minutes, but give the Orange credit for creating pressure and then taking advantage of the Zag miscues. Gonzaga’s nine-point lead with 6:30 to play was erased once and for all when Gbinije came up with a loose ball and layup with 22 seconds to play to put the Orange up one. This will go down as a Gonzaga collapse, but don’t overlook Syracuse’s role in making it happen.
- Orange win with ugly offense. Jim Boeheim admitted that offense was a major problem for the Orange tonight. Offensive struggles are nothing new for a Syracuse team ranked outside the top 50 nationally in offensive efficiency, but tonight was an unusually ugly winning performance. Syracuse shot just 36 percent from the floor and 33 percent from long-range, while Trevor Cooney was the only player on the Syracuse roster who made more shots than he missed (5-9 from the floor). The Orange did make 14 of their 16 free throws (compared to just 4-5 for Gonzaga) and only turned the ball over nine times, eight less than the Zags.