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Syracuse tumbles out of NCAA Tournament

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BUFFALO — This time there was no final miracle shot.

No happy ending for a Syracuse team that held such promise early in the year, but showed its weaknesses at the end.

Trailing much of Saturday’s NCAA South Region third-round game against Dayton, the Orange still had a chance in the final seconds to convert another comeback win. But two Tyler Ennis shots, a 16-footer with 16 seconds left, and a 20-footer in the closing few seconds, did not go down, and the third-seeded Orange was sent home with a 55-53 loss to the No. 11 Flyers at First Niagara Center.

SU finished off another stellar campaign at 28-6, failing to reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in the past six seasons. But this one will hurt for awhile because of missed opportunities.

“The games we lost we didn’t shoot well,’’ SU coach Jim Boeheim said. “Tonight was no exception. We didn’t shoot it well (39 percent overall, 0-for-10 on 3-pointers), but we still had our chances. I thought we got the shots we had to get, especially in the second half, and got some key defensive stops as well.’’

Ennis, the precocious freshman point guard, had almost single-handedly kept SU in the game by scoring 11 straight points, in the final 3½ minutes.

His final conversion, with 16.1 seconds left, brought the Orange within 54-53 and set up the critical final seconds.

When the SU press trapped Dayton’s Jordan Sibert in the corner and forced a turnover with 13.8 seconds remaining, the SU throng felt a sense of déjà vu from so many close wins earlier in the season.

But Ennis, who is not-yet an accomplished jump shooter, misfired on a pair of good looks on SU’s final two possessions.

His first one, a pull-up jumper just behind the foul line, was just a bit long as the clock hit eight seconds.

SU was forced to foul, but Dyshawn Pierre made one of two free throws, giving the Orange one last opportunity.

This time, Ennis went to the top of key and stopped for a possible winning shot. It was right on, but again a tad too long at the two second mark, and SU’s season was over.

“That last shot, I got a little space and had a really good look,’’ said Ennis, who scored 19 points while taking a season-high 19 shots, making seven and going 0-for-5 on 3-point attempts. “The other one, I probably should have driven it because I had been successful on the last couple.’’

Boeheim said the last Ennis shot “was the right one for the time left. He had a chance to win the game. A couple of the others were not good decisions because he was getting to the basket so well.’’

Dayton coach Archie Miller, who saw a last-second winning shot by Ohio State’s Aaron Craft miss on Thursday, thought the Ennis three was going in “for sure. I’d seen that (40-foot) winning shot he hit to beat Pitt 7,000 times, and just figured this one was going to beat us, too.’’

“I’d bet if we played 10 times, they would make a lot more shots than they did tonight,” Miller added.

C.J. Fair added 14 points for the Orange, but Boeheim got virtually nothing from his other two most important offensive players, Trevor Cooney and Jerami Grant.

Cooney was 1-for-6 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-pointers. And Grant did not even take a shot until there was 10 minutes left in the game, finishing with four points.

“When the only thing you are getting is layups against a really good defensive team like Dayton, it’s tough to score consistently,’’ Boeheim said. “Even when we finally got the lead, we settled for a couple of jumpers instead of attacking the basket.”

“We didn’t react well to their defense early, and played catch-up the rest of the game,’’ said Fair, who finished off a stellar four-year career. “But I thought we’d do it on those final two possessions. I guess we used up all our miracles already.’’

Dayton senior Devin Oliver said those last few seconds watching Ennis’s shot “were excruciating. We had played so well and so hard for so long, it would have been awful to lose on a last-second shot.’’

Pierre led Dayton with 14 points and Sibert added 10. The Flyers will meet the winner’s today’s Kansas-Stanford winner in the regional semifinals on Thursday in Memphis.

SU trailed by six points with 13 minutes left, but the defense made several big plays to get in back in the game.

With his team down five, Ennis converted two tough driving layups, and SU was behind 47-46 at the 2:11 left to play. That set up a wild final two minute that did not go SU’s way.

“It was a tough loss, like they all are at this point of the season,’’ Boeheim said. “But somebody is going to lose in the final seconds, and tonight it was us.’’

Unlike Thursday when SU started quickly, the Orange was sluggish Saturday, shooting 2-for-9 from the floor in the opening 8½ minutes.

The Orange got a little going offensively over the next four minutes, hitting three straight shots, but it trailed 14-10 as the clock went under eight minutes.

SU finally took its first lead, 17-16, when Fair hit a pair of free throws at the 2:42 mark. But Dayton’s Dee Sanford scored four straight points to give the underdog Flyers a 20-18 halftime edge.

Despite a poor first half offensively, the Orange should have felt pretty good because SU’s trio of Fair, Ennis and Cooney went a combined 3-for-19 from the floor.



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