NEW YORK (AP)—Syracuse rebounded from its first loss of the season despite being outrebounded by a wide margin.
“Hey, that happens when they send five guys to the boards every play,” freshman forward Donte Greene said after scoring 25 points in the 21st-ranked Orange’s 81-85 victory over Washington on Friday in the third-place game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. “We only had three guys back there but how aggressive they were got them in some foul trouble and we were able to get the guards going on the break and played some good defense.”
Syracuse overcame some poor free-throw shooting over the final two minutes to hold on for the win at Madison Square Garden. That and Washington’s 54-31 advantage on the boards would make it seem unlikely the Orange would come up with a win two days after struggling from the field in a 79-65 semifinal loss to Ohio State.
The Orange (4-1) were able to hold a double-figure lead for most of the second half thanks to their defense. Syracuse had 12 steals in forcing 21 turnovers and the Orange were able to convert many of those into easy transition baskets.
“We responded well after the loss, our defense turned the game around and we got control of it,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “If we had rebounded the ball on the defensive end at all, the game shouldn’t have been close. We outrebounded our previous opponents by 12 rebounds, and I think that’s an area that we have a problem in and today it was exposed.”
Syracuse shot 51.9 percent from the field (27-for-52) coming off its worst shooting game of the season—36.2 percent in the loss to Ohio State. The Orange were 5-for-25 on 3s in the loss and 3-for-9 from beyond the arc against Washington.
Greene, who had seven rebounds and three blocks against Washington, had 21 points and 10 rebounds against Ohio State.
“Donte was really good tonight, especially in the first half,” Boeheim said. “I think he’ll keep growing. But we’re still working and we still have a lot of work to do. We need some practice time. We need time in the gym.”
Eric Devendorf had 18 points and freshman Jonny Flynn added 16 for Syracuse, which finished 34-for-52 from the free-throw line (65.4 percent). But the Orange went 5-for-12 from the line over the final 2:09 as Washington (3-2) was able to get as close as 88-85 with 24 seconds to play.
Flynn, Arinze Onuaku and Paul Harris each went 1-for-2 from the line after that and the Huskies missed 3-point attempts on both of their possessions.
“I think we’re a better shooting team. I don’t think we’re that bad a free throw shooting team. I don’t think we’re that bad a 3-point shooting team, but it certainly looked it tonight in both areas,” Boeheim said. We weren’t very good.”
Quincy Pondexter had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Washington, while Justin Dentmon scored 16 points.
“We really just focused on rebounding. We felt if we won the rebounding we had a chance to win the game,” Pondexter said. “So I just came out and did the best I could on the boards, especially with (Jon Brockman) in foul trouble.”
Pondexter was one of three who fouled out of the game for the Huskies, who had 35 fouls called compared to 17 against Syracuse.
“Syracuse is an uptempo team. we’re an uptempo team,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said when asked about the disparity in foul calls. “Both teams still scored 85-plus points in spite of it but there were a lot of free throws that were shot tonight.”
Syracuse scored on four possessions after Washington turnovers in a 15-0 run that gave it a 31-25 lead with 6:16 left in the first half.
The lead was still 74-60 when Flynn made two free throws with 8:24 left, but Washington turned the tables on the Orange and started forcing its own turnovers for easy baskets.
Dentmon scored down low with 1:50 left to pull the Huskies within 86-81. Syracuse missed a shot after running the shot clock down, but Onuaku blocked a shot by Matthew Bryan-Amaning and that started the Orange’s run of going 1-for-2 from the line the rest of the way.
“We made a couple of tremendous plays when we were up late. Held the ball, ran the clock down, got it inside, got a layup. We just didn’t make our free throws but fortunately we had enough cushion,” Boeheim said.
Washington lost 77-63 to No. 15 Texas A&M in its semifinal.
“I learned a lot from our team and I’m encouraged,” Romar said. “I think that the things we didn’t do well to allow us to win the game are fixable. And there were some things that we were able to do here in these two days that show we can go play against anybody and I think we’ll have a chance to win so that’s encouraging.”
This was the first meeting between the schools.