By Justin Albers
All the talk leading up to the Indiana-Syracuse matchup in last night’s Sweet 16 matchup centered on Syracuse’s dynamic 2-3 zone defense and how Indiana would score against it.
On Thursday night, we found out why the conversation had been so spirited.
The four-seeded Orange stifled top-seeded Indiana all night with their length and athleticism, and the Hoosiers’ season ended with a 61-50 loss.
"It was tough to penetrate it,” said Indiana forward Will Sheehey. “They were long on top. We tried to enter it too many times, and we'd turn it over." Sheehey was not alone in his assessment of Syracuse’s zone play.
"They're length is not really something you can practice against,” senior guard Jordan Hulls added. “We turned the ball over, we didn't hit shots."
Indiana (29-7) turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and trailed by double figures for most of the game. The Hoosiers never really solved the Syracuse zone, though they did get themselves back in the game early in the second half by forcing the Orange into numerous turnovers.
Victor Oladipo’s 3-pointer from the top of the key at the 14:12 mark of the second half cut the Syracuse lead to 38-32, and the Hoosiers appeared to be in business.
But they would get no closer.
Indiana shot 34 percent from the field (16 of 47), 20 percent from beyond the arc (3 of 15) and 63 percent from the foul line (15 of 24).
"We were a little anxious, a little overwhelmed,” Oladipo said. “We all just needed to take deep breaths and slow down, and after we did that, we started coming back. But we dug ourselves too deep a hole."
The Hoosiers tried to get the ball to the middle and have a shooter running the baseline at all times, but they were never able to knock down perimeter shots to loosen up the zone. When they couldn’t, Syracuse packed the lane even tighter and made it tough for Cody Zeller to finish inside.
“They were pretty much everywhere,” said point guard Yogi Ferrell. Indiana’s early offensive struggles were too much to overcome, especially when Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams got it going on the other end of the floor.
The Hoosiers had no answer for Carter-Williams, who scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 19 shooting. Carter-Williams, who is usually a poor perimeter shooter, also knocked down three shots from beyond the arc. One of the main questions about the Hoosiers entering the season was whether small guards Ferrell and Hulls could play together in the same backcourt.
For most of the season, the answer was ‘yes.’
But versus the Orange, both guards struggled against Syracuse’s length. Ferrell committed four first-half turnovers and himself on the bench to start the second half. Neither he nor Hulls scored a single point.
Hulls was 0 of 3 from the field and had a hard time staying in front of Brandon Triche on the defensive end. Hulls was just 7 of 31 from the field in Indiana’s five postseason games, including 4 of 24 from beyond the arc.
“It’s a terrible way to go out,” Hulls said. “It will haunt me the rest of my life.”
Oladipo led Indiana with 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, and Cody Zeller added 11 points and nine rebounds.
With the loss, the Hoosiers say goodbye to seniors Christian Watford, Derek Elston and Hulls. There has also been a great deal of speculation that Oladipo and Zeller may leave school early for the NBA Draft.
Both Oladipo and Zeller said they hadn’t yet thought about their futures.
"I have no clue,” Zeller said. “I don't know how it goes, I don't know what happens from here. I was putting everything into this team, this tournament. I haven't thought about it at all."