The #14 Western Michigan Broncos were dominated from the outset and lost 77-53 to the #3 Syracuse Orange on Thursday afternoon in a second round South Regional game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. The game was held in Buffalo, N.Y. at the First Niagara Center.
Turnovers and rebounds told the tale of the first half as Western Michigan could neither break the vaunted Syracuse zone defense nor match the speed and athleticism of the Orange. On possession after possession, Syracuse defenders were getting their hands on the dribble and interfering with passes, while on offense, the Orange created several second-chance opportunities.
The Broncos ultimately gave the ball away 11 times in the first half and were out-rebounded 16-9, including 6-1 on the offensive end. When they were able to get shots off, they were generally successful, but they could only manage 19 field goal attempts in the entire half. For that reason, they had just eight baskets in those first 20 minutes. Syracuse out-scored WMU 13-0 in points off turnovers, 10-2 in second chance points, and 18-10 in the paint. The Orange also shot better than 50 percent in the first half.
Despite all of that, Western Michigan trailed by just eight (19-11) at the midpoint of the period. Unfortunately, that's when the turnovers really started to manifest. Over the next 7:30, WMU turned the ball over five times and made just one basket as Syracuse went on a 14-2 run. The Broncos went on a brief spurt to close to within 14, but the Orange scored the final five points of the half and headed to the locker room up by 19.
Syracuse cruised throughout the second half and never led by fewer than 16. While WMU solved their turnover problems and gave the ball away only twice during the final 20 minutes, they also made only nine of 30 shots.
Quite simply, the Broncos were never in this game. Had they not dealt with so many turnovers during the first half, things might have been different, but by the time those issues were solved, it was too late. They also did not get the contributions from Connar Tava and David Brown that they absolutely needed in order to compete. Tava had six assists but scored only six points and pulled down just three rebounds. He was 1-of-9 from the floor. Brown made two of his 10 shot attempts from beyond the arc and finished the game with a paltry nine points.
Syracuse also held Tucker Haymond and Shayne Whittington in check, as those two scored only 11 points apiece. Whittington added just two rebounds, and no one from the bench had any significant contributions. Four of the five Orange starters scored at least 14 points, and C.J. Fair ended the game with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds). Trevor Cooney led all scorers with 18 points.
The loss sends Western Michigan to a season-concluding 23-10 record and ends the stellar careers of seniors Brown and Whittington. Syracuse (28-5) advances to the third round on Saturday, when they will play the #11 Dayton Flyers. Dayton beat the #6 Ohio State Buckeyes 60-59 in the first half of Thursday's doubleheader in Buffalo.