Syracuse takes step closer to NCAA Tournament in 79-54 win over Wake Forest

first_img Published on March 2, 2019 at 2:00 pm Contact Billy: | @Wheyen3 WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Frank Howard tossed the ball toward the rim from the right wing. Elijah Hughes, instead of staying still behind the 3-point lane, cut behind the Wake Forest zone from the left corner. For the second time in the second half, Hughes dunked off a dime from Howard.“They stay connected on our guys, really,” Hughes said. “That made it easier to get in the lane … Frank and I just made eye contact, he just threw it up and I caught it. It was cool.”Syracuse carried over its solid offensive showing from Tuesday night’s loss against No. 5 North Carolina, but this time, it came within the arc. Syracuse (19-10, 10-6 Atlantic Coast) handled business against a lower-tier ACC team in Wake Forest (11-17, 4-12) on Saturday, 79-54. The Orange rode dominance inside — shooting 71.1 percent from 2-point range — to an early lead that SU held for the last 35 minutes and 50 seconds of the game. It gives the Orange a win that bracketologists think should solidify SU’s NCAA Tournament hopes and breaks their two-game losing skid.“I thought we did a great job with it,” junior Tyus Battle said. “It was a game that we’re supposed to win, but a lot of times, you’re not up and ready for those games.”The inside assertiveness began with Hughes choosing to take his defender off the dribble. He hadn’t shot above 50 percent from the floor since Jan. 24, but he made 4-of-6 attempts in Saturday’s first half, and finished 8-for-12. Three came inside the paint after driving from the left wing with his right hand, and he also knocked down a right corner jumper to stake Syracuse to an early advantage.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textAfter the game, Hughes heard a reporter ask Battle about his performance. So Hughes jumped in, leaned into the scrum and nodded his head as SU’s leading scorer praised his play.“I’ve been telling him all season, get to the basket,” Battle said. “Finally did it. It was good to see as a teammate, and he’s capable of doing that every night, every game.”Hughes set up two of his teammates for easy first-half buckets, too. On one drive, he chose to lob a pass toward Paschal Chukwu instead of scoring himself. The 7-foot-2 center threw down a slam. Then, in transition, Hughes picked out a wide-open Oshae Brissett for an up-fake and layup.Battle attacked from the beginning, as well. A miss off an early floater bounced right back to the SU junior, so he put it back up and in. Running back down the floor, he matched his head coach, raising his arms and wondering where the foul call was. Then, Battle swished a foul line pull-up jumper and used a sidestep to score as the trailer in transition.“That was one of our objectives: to attack them off the bounce,” Battle said. “… We had a size advantage, and we were just trying to take advantage of that.”The Orange were coming off one of their better offensive showings of the season: 85 points on the road at No. 5 North Carolina. But that was a loss, just as SU’s prior game against then-No. 1 Duke had been. The Demon Deacons provided a respite, enough so that a solid outing on the attacking end of the floor held up.But it was a different win for the Orange because Syracuse struggled to make 3s. Instead, its offensive dominance came inside, with the Orange winning the battle in the paint, 44-10 — the most paint points for SU in conference play this season.“Defense dictates our offense,” Hughes said. “If we’re not getting going from the 3, then we get stops and get on the breaks.”Out of halftime, Hughes cut backdoor for his first alley-oop jam behind WFU’s zone. A few minutes later, Battle hit two tough pull-ups from the left side of the floor. Shots kept falling from all over, but they weren’t 3-pointers. Hughes caught his second lob a bit later, this time after more telling eye contact with Howard. That put the Orange up 56-37 and extended SU’s run to 10-0, effectively putting Saturday’s game out of reach.“(Hughes) was really good early today,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Tyus was really good the whole game. Those two guys were really solid out there.”A game against Wake Forest didn’t have season-making potential, but it had season-breaking implications. A few days ago, bracketologist Patrick Stevens told The Daily Orange that Syracuse had to avoid a loss to Wake Forest to be in “no real danger” of missing the NCAA Tournament.A year ago, SU was the final at-large team selected to the NCAA Tournament. The season before, Syracuse barely missed and was a one-seed in the National Invitation Tournament. This year, though, the Orange rebounded to propel themselves past a subpar bubble. Preseason point guard injuries and consistent struggles at the center spot didn’t do them in. Neither did two losses in each of November and December.The selection committee has proven to be unpredictable. But barring an unprecedented decision, Saturday’s interior dominance affords the Orange a certain comfort: For the first time in three years, Syracuse should avoid being affected by its instability.“I feel comfortable,” Hughes said of SU’s postseason resume. “I feel confident in where we stand on Selection Sunday, whatever the case may be. I feel like we should be all right.” Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more