NCAA hoops: Johnson and Triche lead Syracuse over Zags, 87-65
By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Wes Johnson scored a career-high 31 points and pulled down 14 rebounds and Andy Rautins added 24 points as Syracuse hit a dozen 3-pointers to stun Gonzaga 87-65 on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Syracuse’s storybook season — the Orange were unranked before the season and made it to No. 1 for the final week before losing to Georgetown in the Big East tournament — continues on Thursday. The Orange (30-4), the top seed in the West Regional, will play fifth-seeded Butler (30-4) in Salt Lake City.
Gonzaga (27-7) was trying to become the second team from the West Coast Conference to shock the Big East — WCC tournament champ St. Mary’s stunned second-seeded Villanova on Saturday — but they were no match for the Orange.
Syracuse, which made the round of 16 for the second straight year, again played without 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior center Arinze Onuaku, who’s recovering from a knee injury. Even without Onuaku, the Orange stifled Vermont in the first round, holding the Catamounts to 5 of 22 on 3-pointers, and continued their surge against Gonzaga.
The Zags made just 3 of 21 from beyond the arc and shot 41.7 percent for the game, well below their season average of nearly 50 percent. Syracuse shot 60.7 percent in the first half when it took control and 54.7 percent for the game.
Elias Harris led Gonzaga with 24 points and Robert Sacre had 17 points and eight rebounds. Matt Bouldin, the team’s leading scorer at 16 points a game, was 3 of 13 from the field, missing all six shots he took from beyond the arc. He had eight points, all in the second half.
Gonzaga dropped to 0-5 against top seeds in the tournament.
Freshman Brandon Triche had his second standout game for the Orange, scoring 13 points to key a first-half surge. Scoop Jardine added nine points and Rick Jackson had five points and seven rebounds.
In the hallway about a half-hour before the opening tip, Sacre called Syracuse “soft” and a bunch of “pretty boys,” encouraging the Zags to take the game to the Orange.
The Zags needed more than words on this day, though.
Syracuse danced around Onuaku before the opening tip, all of them smiling widely as the partisan crowd roared “Let’s Go Orange!” and then dominated the first half behind Johnson and Triche, who combined for 28 points, hitting 5 of 8 from beyond the arc as Syracuse built a 15-point halftime lead.
Even when the 6-9 Jackson, the key to the Orange defense inside without Onuaku, went to the bench with his third foul with 8:58 left in the opening half, the Orange barely missed a beat with 7-foot freshman DaShonte Riley on the court.
Syracuse went on a 9-0 run to take a double-digit lead. Kris Joseph, a fierce driver, streaked along the baseline and was fouled by the 7-foot Sacre, his second. That sent him to the Gonzaga bench and Syracuse continued to attack. Triche bounced in a 3 and converted a pretty left-handed layup off the glass and Johnson hit a pullup jumper from just inside the foul line to give the Orange a 31-21 lead at 6:45.
The Zags regrouped after a timeout and closed to 32-28 on two free throws by Harris with 3:59 left.
Undaunted, the Orange hit their next five shots and closed the half with a 15-4 run. Rautins scored the first five points and Triche fed Johnson for a 3 from the wing to boost the lead to 41-28 with 1:49 remaining.
The Zags were clearly frustrated, and it showed. When Steven Gray whistled a pass that sailed out of bounds along the baseline, his shoulders were slumped and his head was down as he slowly made his way back down the court.
After Harris was called for goaltending, it was Riley’s turn to shine. The still-raw freshman, who let Gray steal the ball right out of his hands, atoned for his error with a steal in the lane and then set up Triche for a layup. Triche’s 3 from the left wing gave Syracuse a 46-30 lead in the final minute.
Syracuse, which leads the nation in shooting percentage (51.6 percent), hit 7 of 14 from beyond the arc in the first half in taking a 47-32 lead. They finished 12 of 25 on 3s.