What hurt Gonzaga the most?
BUFFALO, New York--8th-seeded Gonzaga had a great game plan going into their second round NCAA Tournament game against top-seeded Syracuse and early on in the first half it looked like a recipe for success for another huge upset to add to Gonzaga's resume'.
Establish Robert Sacre's physical presence inside? Check.
Get Elias Harris running the baseline for easy buckets against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone? Check.
Get Syracuse's big man Rick Jackson in early foul trouble? Check.
Force some doubt into the minds of the majority Syracuse fans out of the 18,142 sell-out crowd at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, just 150 miles away from Syracuse? Check.
Extend the defense against the Orangemen's deadly outside shooters? Whoops.
Take care of the ball in pressure situations so as not to let the game and the crowd get away from you? Yikes.
Follow the senior leadership and hot shooting of WCC Player of the Year and leading scorer Matt Bouldin? Ouch. Especially for such a classy, outstanding player that will live on in the minds of Gonzaga fans as one of the best ever to wear the uniform.
Gonzaga (27-7) was four out of seven in that game plan and paid for those three parts they didn't master and lost to Syracuse 87-65 in the round of 32 as Syracuse hit 12 three-pointers to bury the Zags.
"We had an awesome year," said Coach Mark Few after the game. "I thought we developed more than any other team I've had."
A 15-4 spirit-crushing run at the end of the first half took the fight out of the Bulldogs and gave the Orangemen (30-4) a 47-32 halftime lead that the Zags couldn't recover from.
Gonzaga came out executing to almost perfection on offense in the first seven minutes of the game, with Bulldog guards finding Harris and Sacre for several easy buckets inside and along the baseline in the holes in the Orange's zone. In fact, the opening punch that the Bulldogs threw in the first 90 seconds would have floored most opponents the Zags played this year, with Bouldin lobbing to Harris for an easy score 11 seconds into the game, followed by a Sacre jump hook and Harris getting loose down the court for an easy layup behind the defense for a quick 6-3 lead.
Both teams then put on a terrific display of offensive basketball until Scoop Jardine gave the Orange the lead for good 15-13 on a three-pointer with 13:12 to play in the half.
Gonzaga continued to hang tough, with Sacre getting good position underneath against the zone and Harris going off for 16 first half points on 6-8 shooting.
Things looked even better for Gonzaga when Syracuse's best remaining big man, Rick Jackson, sat down with his third foul with 8:58 left in the half and the Bulldogs only trailing 22-21. Syracuse's best inside player, Arinze Onuaku, was out for the game with a quad injury and didn't play.
But the Zags couldn't take advantage and still trailed 32-28 with 3:59 to play in the half.
Then the wheels fell off.
The Orange closed with a 15-4 run, with the Zags failing to extend their defense to close out on shooters like Wesley Johnson (15 first half points), Brandon Triche (13 first half points) and Andy Rautins (seven first half points). Syracuse shot 60-percent from the field in the first half, including a blistering 7-14 from three-point range.
Gonzaga shot 45-percent in the first half, but only 2-11 from beyond the three-point stripe.
But it was the first half offensive no-show for Bouldin, 0-3 from the field and zero points, that really killed the Zags' chances. He never found good looks against the Syracuse zone and seemed more spectator than difference maker.
"They're the best team we've played all year, they run that zone to perfection," said Bouldin. "They're really long and athletic."
"He's [Bouldin] meant everything to this program," said Few. "He's the quinessential Gonzaga guard. He goes along with Stockton and Dickau."
Any hopes of a miracle comeback against one of the best teams in the nation were quickly snuffed out by Rautins, who hit three three-pointers in the first three minutes of the second half to extend Syracuse's lead to 58-34.
Bouldin finally scored his first bucket with 16 minutes remaining in the game, but that was about the only second half highlight for the Zags, aside from a Sacre steal and run-out finish with a thunder dunk at the nine minute mark that brought up a brief roar from the Zag faithful.
This was the last game for seniors Bouldin, Will Foster, and Chris Pontarolo-Maag.
Bouldin finished his final game with eight points, all in the second half. He hit only three of his 12 shot attempts and missed all six of his three-point tries.
Harris led Gonzaga with 24 points and added seven rebounds. Sacre was the Zags' leading rebounder with eight and also threw in 17 points. Steven Gray only had nine points on 3-11 shooting.
As a team Gonzaga shot 41.7-percent from the field, but only hit three of 21 three-point attempts.
Johnson was the game-high scorer and rebounder with 31 points and 14 boards. Rautins had 24 points on 5-9 three-point shooting, while Triche and Jardine added 13 and 9 points respectively.
Syracuse shot 54.7-percent from the field and a hot 48-percent (12-25) from three-point range.
Syracuse moves on to play Butler in the Sweet 16.
Gonzaga's charter flight from Buffalo is expected to leave between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Pacific time and take about five hours to land in Spokane.
They should arrive at the McCarthey Athletic Center on their buses from the airport between 7 p.m and 8 p.m. tonight.