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Zoned out: 11th-seeded Syracuse eliminates Michigan State

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

By LARRY LAGE

AP Sports Writer

DETROIT (AP) Syracuse barely got into the NCAA Tournament, getting the 68th and final spot.

The Orange have earned the right to keep playing in college basketball's showcase. And, no one will be excited about facing that zone defense.

Tyus Battle had 17 points, Oshae Brissett scored 15, and 11th-seeded Syracuse zoned Michigan State out of the tournament, 55-53 on Sunday to advance to the Sweet 16.

"No one plays zone like we do," Brissett said. "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 (23-13) will face second-seeded Duke (28-7) on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals.

Playing in his hometown with a chance to add another highlight-reel shot to this year's NCAA Tournament, 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," he said softly. "I just came up short."

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 (30-5) to 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.

"The last couple of jump shots they threw up, they weren't in the ballpark," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.

Syracuse has won three straight since being sent to Dayton for the First Four as what the selection committee chairman acknowledged was the final team to receive an at-large bid. 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.

"We're always going to foul in those situations and it's always worked for us," Boeheim said. "I've seen too many guys when the guy makes a 3 and it goes into overtime."

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 to miss 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.

"It's probably the saddest I've ever been in my life," Bridges said.

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo acknowledged he expects Bridges to go pro.

The sophomore star, who turned a chance to make millions in the NBA this season, was held scoreless for much of the first half and finished with 11 points on 4 of 18 shooting, making just 3 of 12 shots.

"Bridges is a great player, but we wanted to make him shoot from the outside," Boeheim said.

Winston scored 15 points and Nick Ward added 10 for the Spartans, who shot just 26 percent.

Frank Howard fouled out with 13 points for the Orange, who made 36 percent of their shots.

BIG PICTURE

Syracuse can be a problem for any team because that zone is often unfamiliar to opponents and the Orange suddenly have confidence, though still not much offense with just three scorers.

Michigan State may have a rough offseason because it will likely lose Bridges and freshman Jaren Jackson to the NBA draft and the school's crisis on campus isn't going away anytime soon.

Izzo insisted he will be back next season to help the school and his program bounce back from a scandal stemming from sexual assault allegations were handled against Larry Nassar , a former Michigan State doctor, who was sentenced to decades in jail.

"I didn't break this year and I'm not going to break," he said, surrounded by a slew of reporters after his news conference.

PIVOTAL POINTS

Syracuse attacked Michigan State's defense and it made 24 of 31 free throws. The Spartans were kept on the outside, unless they were trying to score off an offensive rebound. They were 11 of 16 at the line and missed the front end of one and ones to take even more potential points away.

"That's the difference in the game," Izzo said.

BANK IS OPEN

Michigan State led 25-22 at halftime after Matt McQuaid made a 3-pointer off the glass after having his shot blocked back to him, catching the ball and throwing it back up with his feet off the ground.

"The (shot) was the hardest and luckiest bank I've ever seen in my life," Boeheim said.

UP NEXT

In their 11th meeting, the Orange and Blue Devils will break a series tie and the winner will advance to the regional finals in in Omaha, Nebraska.

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Updated March 18, 2018

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