NCAA hoops: Syracuse overwhelms Vermont 79-56
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. ó Wes Johnson had 18 points to lead five Syracuse players in double figures, and the top-seeded Orange beat Vermont 79-56 on Friday night in the first round of NCAA tournament.
Syracuse (29-4), playing without injured center Arinze Onuaku, avenged a stunning overtime loss to Vermont (25-10) in the 2005 tournament. The Orange will play eighth-seeded Gonzaga in the second round on Sunday. The Zags beat Florida State 67-60 on Friday night.
Scoop Jardine had 14 points, Rick Jackson added 12 points and eight rebounds, and Andy Rautins finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists for the Orange. Freshman Brandon Triche, whose confidence was suffering after scoring just nine points in his previous four games, had 10 points.
Marqus Blakely led Vermont with 17 points and Evan Fjeld had 13.
Onuaku injured his knee in the Big East tournament and the status of the man in the middle of the back of the 2-3 zone is up in the air for the second-round game.
Syracuse used an overwhelming start that had 16th-seeded Vermont trailing by as many as 25 points late in the first half.
But after the Catamounts closed the half with a 15-2 run, Rautins and Triche started the second by hitting two 3s apiece in the first 4 minutes to erase any doubt about the outcome.
It was the 43rd tournament victory for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, eighth all-time.
Vermont, making its first trip to the tournament since that signature victory as a 13th seed, offered a game effort, nonetheless, despite shooting 29.4 percent in the first half and 34.8 percent for the game.
The Syracuse zone defense clamped down at the outset and allowed few openings. Blakely, with Orange jerseys in his face at every turn, missed his first five shots.
And after Nick Vier hit a 3 for Vermont, Syracuse put together a 20-2 run. The game seemed firmly in the Orangeís control when Jardine converted a three-point play to boost the lead to 35-10 with 6:39 left in the first half.
But after Syracuse forced the America East champions to miss 24 of their first 30 shots, the Orange became careless with the lead, taking bad shots instead of working the ball around, and the Catamounts quickly made them pay. Vermont closed the half with the 15-2 run to get within 37-25.
Blakely converted two lob passes, Joey Accaoui swished a 3 from left wing, and Blakely picked up an errant Syracuse pass and sailed in all alone for a slam dunk in the final minute.
Any thoughts of another upset quickly vanished when play resumed. Rautins and Triche each hit two 3s and Jackson converted a layup off a pretty touch pass from Kris Joseph in the first 4 minutes of the second half as the Orange built their lead back to 19.
This was a game filled with good story lines. That 60-57 Vermont victory in 2005, the only tournament win in four appearances by the Catamounts and one of the most embarrassing losses in Syracuse history. And there was the added attraction of Syracuse standout Kris Joseph going against his brother Maurice, Vermontís second-leading scorer, for the first time since they were kids growing up in Montreal.
The two barely touched hands before the opening tip, and Kris won this skirmish with his older brother. Maurice, Vermontís best outside threat, was 2 of 13 from the field, including 2 of 9 from beyond the arc, and finished with seven points. Kris had eight points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals.