Texas A&M-Syracuse Preview
Syracuse wasn't allowed to compete in a postseason tournament in 2014-15, so it is making the most of its first opportunity to play in a bracketed event this season.
The Orange look to beat a second ranked opponent in the Bahamas when they face No. 25 Texas A&M in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship Friday afternoon.
Following an investigation into a cheating scandal, Syracuse banned itself from competing in the ACC and NCAA tournaments following last season, and the NCAA later stepped in and suspended coach Jim Boeheim for the first nine conference games this season for a lack of program control.
He's got the Orange off to a 5-0 start, though, and hasn't let the negative attention affect his players. After scoring a season-high 26 points in an 83-70 quarterfinal win over Charlotte, Michael Gbinije finished with 17, seven assists and six steals in Thursday's 79-76 victory over No. 18 Connecticut.
Trevor Cooney also scored 17 points and freshman Tyler Lydon had 16 in 35 minutes off the bench as Syracuse essentially used a six-man rotation. Franklin Howard and Kaleb Joseph played a combined five minutes.
Lydon has yet to start but hasn't played fewer than 26 minutes and is averaging 11.2 points and had 18 against Charlotte. He's becoming more aggressive as well, going 11 for 20 from the field in the tournament after attempting a total of 15 shots over his first three.
''Tyler Lydon's done an unbelievable job. In the middle of the defense, and offensively he sees plays that nobody sees,'' coach Jim Boeheim said. ''He's had two monstrous games down here.''
The Aggies (6-0) pulled off a surprise of their own in the semifinals, knocking off No. 10 Gonzaga 62-61 earlier Thursday. Danuel House scored the last of his game-high 19 points on a free throw with 1:05 left that proved to be the winner.
Tonny Trocha-Morels hit all four of his 3-point attempts and was the only other A&M player in double figures with 14 points.
''Any time we have a tough game, it's teaching us all how to be poised, how to play under control and how to execute so we can give ourselves a chance to win a game,'' House said.
The Aggies hadn't played any close ones prior to facing Gonzaga. They won their first five by an average of 29.2 points, with the slimmest margin of victory being an 84-73 win over Texas in Wednesday's quarterfinals.
Their 44.7 shooting percentage Thursday was their worst of the season, but they hit 7 of 14 from behind the arc. Gonzaga's 46.2 percent mark from the field was the best of any Texas A&M opponent, but the Aggies allowed fewer than their average of 62.2 points per game.
''I was really proud of our guys defensively down the stretch," coach Billy Kennedy said. "Our goal was to hold their big three guys to 30 points or less and we were able to do that.
The best thing about our team is we didn't panic. Emotionally I thought we were locked in the whole game.''
These teams last faced each other when 12th-seeded Texas A&M upset fifth-seeded Syracuse 66-58 in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.