When Syracuse and Indiana met in the Sweet Sixteen back in March, it was the swarming defense of the Orange that allowed Jim Boeheim‘s squad to more or less manhandle the Hoosiers and move on in the tournament. After losing Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, there was the fear that not only would the zone suffer, but so too would the talent at the guard position.
Indiana found out the hard way that neither one is the case, as Syracuse guards Trevor Cooney and Tyler Ennis were superb and the interior defense of the Orange made it nearly impossible for the Hoosiers to get anything easy, particularly in the second half, as Syracuse broke open what had been a tight game at the half for a 69-52 win in the Carrier Dome.
At the end of the game, the two things that you can point to as the keys to the Orange victory are the interior defense and the nearly flawless play of Cooney and Ennis, who continue to exceed expectations in stepping in for Triche and Carter-Williams, respectively. Ennis had a jaw-dropping stat line of 17 points, eight assists, seven rebounds, four steals and only one turnover, while Cooney continued to impress from long range, hitting five triples on his way to a game-high 21 points. Not only that, but he was also disruptive on the defense, jumping into passing lanes and coming away with four steals of his own.
Along with eight combined steals from the starting backcourt, Syracuse had seven blocked shots as they more or less controlled the paint. Yes, Indiana grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, but 10 of those came in the first half. With some excellent halftime adjustments, the Orange managed to keep Noah Vonleh and the rest of the Hoosiers from getting too many second chances. Those second chance attempts were a big part of the reason Indiana was able to keep things close in the first half. At one point during the second half, the 2-3 was working at such a high level that the Hoosiers went nearly 13 minutes without a field goal.
As usual, C.J. Fair got his 15 points and Jerami Grant, while finishing with just six points, got his highlight reel dunk, but this was a game that belonged to Ennis and Cooney, and the duo carried Syracuse to a win in its first ever Big Ten/ACC Challenge. After a slow start to the season, Ennis is quickly emerging as one of the best point guards in the ACC, and maybe even the nation, and Cooney is rapidly becoming one of the most lethal outside shooters.
If they continue to play at this level, there’s no telling how far this Syracuse team can go.