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Baylor Pulls Away Late to Boot 'Cuse From NCAA Tourney

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Cuse.com
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A long, winding season of Syracuse men's basketball (20-14, 10-8) has abruptly ended with a 78-69 loss to Baylor (20-13, 10-8) in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament.

SU's East Carolina transfer Elijah Hughes led all scorers with 25 thanks to a 6-11 night shooting from beyond the arc. Baylor's first graduate transfer in team history, Makai Mason, led the team with 22 points.

Mason left Yale last year to play for the Bears a couple years after he torched them in the NCAA tournament for his former team, Yale. He averaged 14.6 points per game on the season averaging 5.7 three-point attempts per game. Thursday night Mason made 4 of his 10 long range attempts in Thursday night's do or die shootout.

Baylor entered the midway point of the contest with a 38-37 lead. The score might as well have been tied though, because the Orange and the Bears were mirror images of each other by the end of the first half. Each team was firing on all cylinders, both shooting better than 50% from deep.

The opening minutes of the NCAA tournament were hellish for the Orange. The Bears started off blazing hot from downtown to score their first 15 points of the game from long range.

Elijah Hughes excellent performance started during the front half of his 39 minutes on the court. The junior kept Syracuse in the game with 8 straight points, including two triples, to bring his team back from down 15-4.  Hughes finished as the game’s high scorer with 25.

Tyus Battle's 4-point play gave Syracuse its first lead of the game with just under 7 minutes left in the first half. SU's leader didn't reach double digit scoring until the second half, but he finished second on the team in scoring with 16 points in 38 minutes.  

"No I'm not going to leave it on one person. I mean, we have to do a better job as a team." - Tyus Battle when asked if the team missed Frank Howard on defense against Baylor. It was announced Wednesday that Howard would miss the NCAA Tournament due to a violation of athletic department policy. This violation is reported to have been due to a failed drug test.

Without senior point guard Frank Howard, a limited Syracuse rotation turned to Buddy Boeheim for 39 minutes. The quickly improving freshman managed just two points and failed to make a field goal in his first NCAA tournament game. He did make an impact on the defensive end by forcing multiple turnovers, including a backcourt violation just before the first half ended. Freshman guard Jalen Carey played just three minutes and was pulled after committing a turnover.

After 20 minutes, both teams were shooting better than 50% from downtown. It seemed as if Syracuse and Baylor had finished the first round of a championship fight when the first half ended, and both teams came our firing in round two. The squads traded the lead back and forth to open the second half, but the Orange's recipe for success was impossible to rely on for the rest of the game. 

From the 17-minute mark to the 10-minute mark, Tyus Battle and sophomore forward Marek Dolezaj scored all 11 of SU's points, bring the team up to 55. For the next five minutes, Syracuse scored just four points and allowed the Baylor lead to balloon to nine.

Elijah Hughes sprung back with six points ( a triple and three free throws) to make it a one possession game with under five minutes to go, and senior center Paschal Chukwu made a layup just over a minute later to bring it back to a three-point game, but too many Syracuse jump shots hit front rim for the Orange to stay in the game any longer.

"It was a solid year. It just wasn't the year I think we would have liked to have." - Jim Boeheim after SU's 78-69 loss to Baylor in the Round of 64

A few sets of fouls and free throws later, and the Orange had let a game slip away that some fans were overlooking. Orange faithful had their sights set on another matchup with #1 seed Gonzaga, a mid-major powerhouse, after Thursday night's opening matchup with Baylor.

Syracuse's 20-14 record marks the 39th time that Jim Boeheim has  won 20 or more games in a season in his 43 seasons as the team's head coach. Junior Tyus Battle is the team's biggest NBA prospect, but some wonder if he will return for his senior season after his draft stock has dropped since last year. He is expected to be a late-second round pick, or even undrafted, should he choose to enter the NBA draft.

When asked about his future with the team after the game, Battle focused on the tough loss to Baylor.