ATLANTA Syracuses magical NCAA Tournament run was stopped in its tracks Saturday night by an old bugaboo an inconsistent offense that failed to fully complement its stingy defense.
Other than junior C. J. Fair, who scored a game-high 22 points, the Orange had major difficulties putting the ball in the basket. Consequently, SU saw its season end with a disappointing 61-56 loss to Michigan in the national semifinals before 75,350 in the Georgia Dome, the second biggest crowd ever to attend a Final Four game.
SU fought gallantly to the end despite trailing for a majority of the game, drawing within a point with 40 seconds to play. But it was too little, too late, as the Orange failed in search of a fourth NCAA championship berth.
SUs vaunted 2-3 zone defense, spectacular through the first four tourney games, wasnt nearly as intimidating. Still, the Wolverines were held to 17 points below their seasons average, shot just 39 percent from the field and could not put the Orange away although they led for the final 29 minutes.
Michigan (31-7) will play Louisville for the crown on Monday night. The Cardinals overcame a 12-point second-half deficit to outlast Cinderella Wichita State 72-68 in the first semifinal.
Our defense was good enough to win, said SU coach Jim Boeheim. But our offense wasnt nearly good enough.
Fair kept the Orange in the game with his seventh 20-point performance of the season. Second-leading scorer Brandon Triche managed 11 points, but double-digit scorer James Southerland went 2-for-9 from the field and didnt score until the final two minutes. And East Region MVP Michael Carter-Williams was limited to a season-low two points and fouled out in the final minutes.
I thought we got enough good shots, but we couldnt make enough, said Triche of SUs 3-for-14 effort from 3-point range. And then when we got down, we maybe tried a little bit too hard to come back.
Down by 10 points with 13½ minutes left, and looking lifeless, Fair sparked a stirring SU comeback by scoring six points and helping the Orange pull as close as three points at the next-to-last TV timeout.
But the Orange came up empty on three consecutive critical possessions when it desperately needed some points.
A Trey Burke free throw, followed by a Glenn Robinson III tip-in and a Mitch McGary jumper put SU in an eight-point hole from which they could not completely recover.
I thought we did an unbelievable job of coming back when we were down eight, Boeheim said. We at least gave ourselves a chance after Michigan really took control for a good part of the game.
The SU defense held national Player of the Year Burke to just 1 of 8 shooting and seven points. And sharpshooter Nick Stauskas, who hit six threes against Florida, went scoreless.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led Michigan with 13 points, while RobinsonI had 10 and freshman center McGary 10 points and 12 rebounds.
We didnt come out with a lot of defensive energy and let them hit a few threes, Triche said. But the second half we got to the shooters better and just moved in the zone a lot better.
Trailing 36-25 at halftime, SU trimmed the deficit to 39-32 early in the second half as Fair hit two more baskets, and Rakeem Christmas added a dunk and a free throw.
But Michigan answered, getting a dunk from Robinson, and another slam from McGary off a Burke assist as the lead burgeoned back to 11 points again at the 15:08 mark.
SU hung tough, however, getting a put-back from freshman Jerami Grant, a Triche driving hoop and two Fair free throws to draw within six points (45-39) as the clock wound under 12 minutes.
SU threatened the lead a few more times, but could never regain it. In the closing minute, Southerland hit his only three to bring the Orange within 57-56. But Triche was called for a questionable charge and backup Trevor Cooney lost the ball going to the basket after Carter-Williams fouled out.
A Jon Horford free throw and a breakaway dunk by Jordan Morgan of Michigan closed out the scoring.
Brandon did the right thing, trying to make a play going to the basket, Boeheim said. Our offense has hurt us in all of our losses. Were shooting something like 20 percent from (3-point range). They made eight threes, we made three. That, basically was the difference.
The Orange started out nervously, missing its first four shots before settling down.
Fair finally got SU on the board with 17:55 left. He continued to exploit his matchup with smaller defender Hardaway Jr., hitting another mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer to extend the SU lead to 14-9.
But the Wolverines got a 3-pointer from reserve guard Caris LeVert and a 3-point play from backup Horford to regain the lead at 15-14.
After Cooney hit a 3-pointer for the Orange, LeVert hit another three, and Hardaway Jr. got loose for a layup as Michigan took a 20-17 edge.
The Orange went four minutes without a point, and Boeheim was forced to call timeout after reserve guard Spike Albrecht fired in a 3-pointer to extend the Wolverines lead to 24-17.
Triche finally broke the SU drought with a short jumper. But Albrecht, a backup to Burke, sunk another 3-pointer as the Wolverines led 28-21 with just under four minutes left before halftime.
Michigan finished the half with a pair of baskets from Robinson and Burke finally notched his first points of the half on a deep 3-pointer as the Orange fell behind 36-25 at intermission.
The halftime deficit was the Oranges first in the NCAA Tournament, and the first in the last nine games.