Syracuse destroys Montana 81-34 in NCAA opener

The SportsXchange

SAN JOSE -- Syracuse avoided the upsets that had terminated two high seeds that preceded them onto the HP Pavilion court Thursday night, leaving no doubt in an 81-34 demolition of Montana in a second-round game in the NCAA Tournament East Regional.

Playing nearly 3,000 miles from home, the fourth-seeded Orange (27-9) earned a third-round matchup with 12th-seeded California, a team that made the 40-mile drive back to campus following one of Thursday's upsets, a 64-61 elimination of fifth-seeded UNLV.

Another 12-seed, Oregon, earlier stunned fifth-seeded Oklahoma State 68-55 in San Jose in a Midwest Regional game to earn a shot in Saturday's double-header opener (4:10 p.m. PST) at fourth-seeded Saint Louis, which began Thursday's quadruple-header according to form, steamrolling 13th-seeded New Mexico State 64-44.

Syracuse-Cal will be Saturday's late game in San Jose, scheduled to tip at approximately 6:40 p.m. PST.

Brandon Triche hit eight free throws en route to 20 points and teammates C.J. Fair (13) and DaJuan Coleman (12) also scored in double figures for the Orange, who quickly put the sting of last weekend's loss to Louisville in the Big East Conference Tournament finals behind them.

"We played well in New York and we continued that tonight on both ends of the floor," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after his 49th career NCAA Tournament victory. "Everybody had good games. It was just one of those nights."

Syracuse was relentless on the Big Sky Conference champions, shooting 51.9 percent overall and 45.5 percent (five of 11) from beyond the 3-point arc. Triche hit both his 3-point attempts.

Meanwhile, the 13th-seeded Grizzlies (25-7) did almost nothing right offensively, making just 20.4 percent of their shots and struggling mightily from outside against the Syracuse zone, missing 27 of their 31 3-point attempts.

"They've got the talent," Montana coach Wayne Tinkle said of the Orange's title hopes. "From the games that I've watched, there's any number of 10, 11 teams that will have the ability to win it all, and I would certainly put them in that group."

The Orange led 38-15 at halftime and came out of intermission just as hungry, running off six consecutive points and 17 of the second half's first 19 to balloon the lead to 55-17 with still 14:29 to play.

"We knew that we were favored in this game as far as our talent level," Triche noted. "So we wanted to not give a team like that a confidence in thinking that they can win the game."

No Montana player scored more than five points, with Spencer Coleman, Kareem Jamar, Jordan Gregory and Jake Wiley tying for team-high honors.

Jamar, the two-time Big Sky Conference Player of the Year, was scoreless until hitting a 3 with 7:30 remaining in the game.

"It was ugly," Tinkle admitted. "We haven't seen that kind of length and athleticism all season long. We knew when we saw their name come up on TV on Selection Sunday that it was a tough matchup for us."

The game was a blowout basically from the opening tip, with Fair's layup 14 seconds into the contest giving the Orange a lead they never relinquished.

Syracuse had 8-2, 7-1 and 5-1 bursts early on to go up 20-4, but probably saved its best basketball for the final 9:56 of the half, during which Montana had only one field goal.

Meanwhile, Triche capped a 12-point first half with four free throws, a jumper and a dunk as the Orange outscored the Grizzlies 15-4 to end the half with a commanding 38-15 advantage.

NOTES: Syracuse and Montana had never previously met in men's basketball. ... The win improved Boeheim's record to 25-5 in NCAA Tournament openers. ... Boeheim ranks fifth on the all-time list for NCAA Tournament coaching wins with 49. ... Montana entered the game ranked 13th in the nation in 3-point field-goal percentage (39.0). ... Montana again was without leading scorer Mathias Ward, a senior forward who averaged 14.8 points per game before being lost to season-ending foot surgery. ... Montana's four-year seniors, including San Francisco Bay Area product Will Cherry, won 93 games in their career, the most by any Grizzlies player ever. Cherry shot just 1-for-12 and finished with two points in his collegiate finale.
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