NCAA Tournament: Syracuse 81, Montana 34

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Syracuse carried all that momentum built in the Big East tournament across the country for their NCAA opener.

Brandon Triche scored 20 points, C.J. Fair added 13 and the fourth-seeded Orange shut down No. 13 seed Montana with their zone defense in an 81-34 victory in the second round Thursday night.

“It was just one of those games where they had a game where they couldn’t do anything right and everything fell right for us,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “We played well in New York and we continued that tonight on both ends of the court. Our defense was good. Our offense was good. And everybody really everybody had good games. It was one of those nights. It was just our night.”

It was the most lopsided victory in NCAA tournament history for a team seeded third or worse, breaking a mark set about an hour earlier by VCU against Akron.

Michael Carter-Williams chipped in four points, eight rebounds and nine assists as the Orange (27-9) raced out to an early lead that grew as high as 50 points and coasted past the Grizzlies (25-7) to their most lopsided tournament win since beating Brown 101-52 in the first round in 1986.

“We knew that we were favored a little bit in this game and as far as our talent level. So we wanted to not give a team like that a confidence in thinking that they can win the game,” Triche said. “C.J. did a great job for us starting the game off with the first six points or so. He had a mismatch and we tried to go to him early. He kind of jump started us.”

Syracuse advanced to play 12th-seeded and local favorite California (21-11) on Saturday for a spot in the East regional in Washington, D.C. next week. The Golden Bears beat UNLV 64-61.

The Orange were the lone team from the Eastern time zone to play in San Jose this week, joining five teams from the Western half of the country and Oklahoma State and St. Louis from the Midwest. Syracuse traveled a day earlier than usual to prepare for the game and looked sharp from the start.

“Everybody was excited to come to California,” Fair said. “Everybody likes California. We got here early in the week to get adjusted to the time zone, but I think we’re starting to play our best basketball of the season now. That’s a good sign for us.”

The Orange led by 23 points at halftime and then turned it into a laugher with a 17-2 run to open the second half. Trevor Cooney’s 3-pointer midway through the second half made it 62-20.

The Orange were reeling a bit at the end of the regular season, losing four of their final five games capped by a blowout loss at rival Georgetown. Syracuse recovered to win three games to make the final of the Big East tournament and have now started the NCAAs off with a win for the fifth straight year.

For the second straight year, the Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament to earn an NCAA tournament bid only to fall flat in their opener. They fell 73-49 to Wisconsin a year ago, shooting 38 percent for the game, including a 3-for-14 performance from star guard Will Cherry.

Cherry was hoping for a better performance this year, especially with this game being played less than an hour from his hometown of Oakland. But he scored just two points on 1 for 12 shooting.

The Grizzlies, playing without injured leading scorer Mathias Ward, shot just 20 percent (11 for 54), missed 27 of 31 3-pointers and had more turnovers (17) than made baskets.

“We didn’t come out how we pictured it,” Montana forward Spencer Coleman said. “We came out soft.”

With much of the Bay Area crowd still basking in the earlier win by California, Syracuse got off to a fast start to put to rest any questions about whether a third straight double-digit seed team would win in San Jose following wins by the Bears and Oregon earlier in the day.

Fair handled the early scoring load, scoring nine points in the opening 6 minutes to give Syracuse an 18-4 lead. The Orange made seven of their first nine shots as their superior athleticism and size created easy chances almost every time down the floor.

That size gave Montana problems on the other end against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Grizzlies struggled to penetrate the defense and got few easy looks, missing eight straight shots in a span of more than 6 minutes early in the game to fall into a hole that proved too big to overcome.

“We haven’t seen that kind of length and athleticism all season long,” coach Wayne Tinkle said. “We knew when we saw their name come up on TV on Selection Sunday that it was a tough matchup for us. But we tried to approach it like upsets happen, let’s get after it. They jumped us pretty good and I think our guys maybe panicked a little when shots weren’t going in, we weren’t finishing in transition.”

Christmas followed Fair’s 3-pointer with an alley-oop dunk off a nice feed from Carter-Williams and James Southerland’s 3-pointer from the wing made it 30-11 with less than 6 minutes to go in the half.

Fair himself had matched Montana’s scoring total at that point and the deficit only got bigger at the half when Triche hit a floater and then scored on a breakaway dunk off a block by Baye Moussa Keita to make it 38-15 at the break.

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