Cougar Clawed: Syracuse basketball loses to Houston 62-46 (Brent Axe recap)

Syracuse, N.Y. — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and his son, Buddy, spent last week in the spotlight, but Houston roared when it mattered most.

The Cougars locked down the hot-shooting Boeheim and the Orange offense as Syracuse lost 62-46 to Houston on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Orange finished the 2020-21 season with an 18-10 record.

Syracuse shot a season-low 28% from the field. The 46 points were the lowest total for Syracuse in an NCAA tournament game. The previous low came in a 51-43 win over Princeton in 1992.

Syracuse will miss a chance to play 12-seed Oregon State for a trip to the Final Four and what would have been a neat reunion. The Beavers feature former Syracuse star Stephen Thompson on the coaching staff. Thompson’s son, Ethan, is the leading scorer on the Beavers (15.7 ppg.) and has been one of the best players in the NCAA tournament this year.

Syracuse had been playing with house money since it arrived in Indianapolis. The Orange, who snuck into the Tournament as a No. 11 seed, gave everyone an unexpected thrill ride into the Sweet 16 when it looked like it didn’t even deserve to play in the tournament less than a month ago.

Syracuse endured three Covid-related pauses and several close calls on its path to Indianapolis. The Orange nearly lost its season-opener against Bryant. Big comebacks were required to beat Buffalo, NC State and Notre Dame. Pittsburgh swept the Orange. Bad losses to Virginia, Duke and Georgia Tech during the regular season looked to sink Syracuse’s battleship.

But SU endured, winning just enough games at the end over North Carolina, Clemson and NC State — with a buzzer-beating loss to Virginia mixed in — to earn a bid from the NCAA Tournament.

That was not lost on Jim Boeheim as he reflected on the loss to Houston and the completion of his 45th year as head coach on Saturday night.

“I mean this is one of the best years that I have ever had coaching,” Boeheim said. “For these guys to get through this and to get to this stage, I think, is just unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team than I am of this team. Period.”

“This was a great year,” Boeheim said. “These guys deserve all the credit in the world for what they’ve done. And we happened to lose to a really great basketball team tonight.”

The Dark Side

Houston forward Justin Gorham (4) Syracuse center Jesse Edwards (14) and Houston forward Brison Gresham (55) battle for the ball in the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) AP

Houston was a Problem

Houston’s defense suffocated and swarmed the Orange offense into submission on Saturday night.

Houston held Syracuse to a season-low 46 points. The Orange shot 14-of-50 from the field for a season-low 28% shooting percentage. SU made just six shots in the first half.

“I thought that Houston was tremendous defensively,” Jim Boeheim said. “We did a great job fighting back just before the half, but their defense was too much for us. I give 90 percent of the credit to their defense. It’s the best defense that we’ve seen this year, and they deserved to win.”

Houston guard DeJon Jarreau put on a MasterClass of defense against Syracuse’s Buddy Boeheim, the hottest player in the NCAA tournament entering Saturday night’s game.

Jarreau was in Boeheim’s pocket the entire game, chasing the Orange sharpshooter wherever he went with precision. Boeheim was held to 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting, including a 1-for-9 mark from 3-point range. Boeheim was averaging 27.5 points in the NCAA tournament.

“He has unlimited range,” Jarreau said of Boeheim. “He’s a great shooter. Just try and make him make plays off the bounce instead of just catching it and shooting it or coming off a pin-down and shooting it. I feel like I did a great job tonight. Whenever I wasn’t on him, I feel like my teammates did a good job tonight.

Joe Girard III scored 12 points but struggled to get there, shooting 4-for-10. No other Syracuse player scored in double figures.

Syracuse shot 5-for-23 (21.7%) from 3-point range against Houston. The Orange hit a combined 29 3s in its first two games of the NCAA Tournament against San Diego State and West Virginia.

“Taking away the 3-point line, that’s not easy to do,” Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said. “You say, ‘Go out there and stop somebody.’ You’ve got to have clear responsibilities and great communication and you can’t get hit by screens. Buddy is really good off the ball. You watch him the last two games, he got open a lot ducking in and out of those screens. But the key is you’ve got to stay outside his hips. You can’t stay inside them. You’ve got to be outside. And the big has to help.”

Boeheim knew Houston would bring the heat and focus on his son. He believed that would open up opportunities for his big men to score. That did not come to fruition.

Quincy Guerrier was 3-for-9 in 35 minutes with eight points and five rebounds.

Marek Dolezaj was held in check, scoring just two points on 1-of-6 shooting in 35 minutes.

The Syracuse bench players of Jesse Edwards, Kadary Richmond and Robert Braswell combined to score 10 points. Braswell was held scoreless in 15 minutes of action.

“I just thought that would open up some things for us to score inside, and we were not able to do that,” Jim Boeheim said. “I felt that our forwards would be able to score in this game. And they weren’t able to.”

Syracuse vs Houston

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 27: Syracuse plays Houston in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Hinkle Fieldhouse on March 27, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Trevor Brown Jr/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim talks to Syracuse Orange forward Alan Griffin (0) NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Anyone seen Alan?

Alan Griffin’s stunning free fall continued against Houston, and his season ended with a giant thud.

Griffin scored just two points against the Cougars in just 13 minutes. He was yanked out of the game in the first minute in favor of Robert Braswell after air-balling a 3-point attempt.

Continued defensive lapses also limited Griffin’s minutes against Houston, as they had in Syracuse’s final games down the stretch.

“I thought Alan could play against this team, but he gave up the two 3s to Sasser right in front of him,” Boeheim said. “And the last 6-7 games he just has not been able to defend to stay on the court. I think it was a game he might have been able to get something off this team, off the bounce, but he just has struggled at the end of the year.”

Griffin scored just eight points and shot a combined 1-for-13 in Syracuse’s final four games. His four lowest minute outputs (12, 15, 11, 13) all came in those final four games as well.

Syracuse vs. Houston

Houston guard DeJon Jarreau (3) shoots on Syracuse center Jesse Edwards (14) in the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast) AP

The Jesse Decision

Jesse Edwards was making a big difference.

The Syracuse sophomore center was disrupting plays and stalling the Houston offense. The Orange had just gone on a 15-3 run to tie the game at 20, with Edwards a main contributor in that with defense, rebounds, a spin move inside to score, and getting to the free-throw line.

Which made Jim Boeheim’s decision to leave him on the bench out of a timeout with 2:20 remaining in the first half a big head-scratcher.

After Quentin Grimes put Houston up 23-20 with a 3-pointer with 2:48 to go in the half, the Cougars went inside time after time when it noticed Edwards was not occupying the paint.

Justin Gorham went at the basket and was fouled. He converted the free throw. Houston 26, Syracuse 20.

After Marcus Sasser picked up a turnover and scored easily to put Houston up 28-20, another timeout was called with 1:17 remaining in the half.

Edwards remained on the bench out of that timeout. Houston scored again as Brison Gresham dunked inside to put the Cougars up 30-20.

Edwards finally checked back in with six seconds to go in the half, but by then the damage had been done.

Asked at the postgame press conference why Edwards wasn’t in the game for the final few minutes of the first half, Boeheim turned on the snark.

“That’s why they went on that run, I’m sure,” Boeheim said. “He was tired, OK? Really. That’s just unbelievable. That’s normal for Syracuse people.”

Boeheim had just enjoyed a week of love from the national media, so being questioned again by a local reporter put him right back into defiant mode.

“This was a great year. I’m so proud of this team and everything that they’ve accomplished,” Boeheim said. “The guy that asked that question two months ago said we wouldn’t be in the NIT. So I guess that’s so much for your credibility.”

The reporter, Anthony Dabbundo from the Daily Orange, did not say that.

What that reporter said two months ago also has nothing to do with the moment he asked about. It was a valid question about why someone playing really well wasn’t on the floor.

Also, Jesse was tired? Boeheim left him on the bench out of two timeouts down the stretch with halftime approaching. Being tired is not a valid excuse in that moment.

Even Jim Boeheim can make the wrong call from time to time.

It was clear as day that Houston took advantage of Edwards’ absence.

The Sunny Side

Syracuse vs. Houston

Houston forward Fabian White Jr. (35) shoots on Syracuse center Jesse Edwards (14) in the first half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy) AP


Jesse Edwards’ provided just about the only bright spot for the Orange. He was an anchor for the Orange in the first half, finishing with five points, six rebounds and two blocks overall in 19 minutes.

The Orange trailed 15-5 when Edwards entered the game. SU soon tied it at 20 with Edwards and Kadary Richmond making the biggest dent in that comeback. Syracuse was plus-4 with Jesse Edwards in the game and minus-14 with him on the bench in the first half.

Houston’s offense stalled with him on the floor and revved up when he went to the bench. Simple as that.

When he wasn’t defending or rebounding, he was drawing fouls.

Sunny tidbits

  • Syracuse was out-rebounded by Houston 40-31 but honestly did a decent job hanging in there on the boards against one of the best rebounding teams in the country. That was not the issue on Saturday night. With the way Houston attacks the boards in waves, it could have been much worse.
  • The Syracuse 2-3 zone was not the mystic force it was against San Diego State and West Virginia but held Houston to 38.3% from the field (23-for-60) and a 7-for-26 mark from 3-point range. Like the rebounding stat, the defense was not the issue for Syracuse. The Orange just were stymied by the excellent defensive effort of the Cougars.

This, That and the Other Thing

Syracuse vs. Houston

Houston forward Fabian White Jr. (35), Quentin Grimes (24), Marcus Sasser (0), Justin Gorham (4) and DeJon Jarreau (3) gather as Syracuse guard Buddy Boeheim (35) stands by in the second half of a Sweet 16 game in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/AJ Mast) AP

  • Saturday was just the second game between Syracuse and Houston. The first came on Dec. 11, 1982, a 92-87 victory in the Carrier Dome against the famed “Phi Slama Jama team” that featured future NBA Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
  • Saturday was the 20th Sweet 16 appearance for Jim Boeheim, the second-most of any coach in Division I men’s basketball history behind Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (25).
  • Buddy Boeheim passed Michael Gbinije (1,144 career points) for 52nd place on the Syracuse scoring list.
  • Boeheim finished the tournament averaging 22.3 points per game, tying him with Hakim Warrick in 2004 for the sixth-highest scoring average over the course of an NCAA tournament in program history. His 14 made 3-pointers are the third-most in a single-NCAA tournament in Syracuse history behind Gerry McNamara in both 2003 (18) and 2004 (15).
  • Syracuse football coach Dino Babers made the trip to Indianapolis.

Tweet of the Game

Contact Brent Axe: Email | Twitter


Clock strikes midnight on Syracuse’s magical run with 62-46 loss to Houston

What Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after loss to Houston (transcript)

What Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said after win over Syracuse (transcript)

Syracuse simply can’t score and drops a 62-46 Sweet 16 game to Houston (Donna Ditota’s quick hits)

You grade the Orange: Rate Syracuse basketball’s performance vs. Houston in NCAA tournament


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