Syracuse upsets Aztecs in first round of NCAA Tournament

San+Diego+State+men%27s+basketball+senior+forward+Matt+Mitchell+guards+Syracuse+sophomore+forward+Quincy+Guerrier+during+the+Aztecs%27+78-62+loss+to+the+Orange+during+the+first+round+of+the+NCAA+Tournament+on+March+19%2C+2021+at+Hinkle+Fieldhouse+in+Indianapolis.

Courtesy of 2021 NCAA Photos

San Diego State men’s basketball senior forward Matt Mitchell guards Syracuse sophomore forward Quincy Guerrier during the Aztecs’ 78-62 loss to the Orange during the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 19, 2021 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

by Amber Salas, Senior Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS— No. 6 seed San Diego State men’s basketball came into Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis knowing it had a tough test ahead of it with No. 11 seed Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense, but what Syracuse threw their way was something the Aztecs ultimately couldn’t withstand. Quite frankly, they were baffled as they fell 78-62 in round one of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.

It was a bad night to have a bad night. 

The Aztecs came into the tournament on a 14-game win streak fresh off of winning the Mountain West Conference tournament championship. The momentum was thought to be with the Aztecs all the way, until Syracuse showed up going on an 18-0 run that left the Aztecs’ confidence running out the door. 

March Madness is known for close games. It’s especially known for buzzer-beater shots that send games to overtime, for games where teams win by one point and these are all things that have been seen this weekend. But the Aztecs were simply blown out. 

“I thought we played hard to the end,” head coach Brian Dutcher said. “We had a tendency of maybe struggling to find an offensive flow at times but our defense always keeps us in the game. But tonight, we let them create too much separation and they played well offensively. Obviously we struggled to shoot the ball — their zone was very good.

“We were trying to find ways to attack it off the dribble, off the pass, off the high post and weren’t successful at any of those things because of their high quality defense, so that’s a credit to Syracuse.” 

The season ended in the blink of an eye for the two four-year seniors — senior guard Jordan Schakel and senior forward Matt Mitchell — who expected to make a deep run after having the opportunity taken away last year. 

“I’m extremely grateful for this coaching staff for giving me a chance coming out of high school,” Schakel said. “We had a lot of great memories over the years, and this isn’t how we wanted to end it but in a couple days I’ll be able to look back and be grateful. Right now this one doesn’t feel good.” 

The Aztecs had a 15-10 lead with 11:23 remaining in the first half, but even that lead wasn’t pretty. It started with a missed three from senior guard Jordan Schakel, a missed three from senior Terrell Gomez and another missed three from senior forward Matt Mitchell. 

The Aztecs held a lead until there was 9:22 remaining in the first half… then Syracuse junior guard Buddy Boeheim made a jumper.

And another…

And another…

Boeheim simply could not be stopped. The Aztecs would miss a basket and the Orange kept finding a way to get the ball in Boeheim’s hands where he made it nearly every single time, finishing the night with 30 points — only missing three 3-pointers going 7-for-10. 

Syracuse set an NCAA Tournament record for the most 3-pointers ever scored in a game with 15 total. The Orange have Boeheim to thank for that. 

Boeheim passed his dad and head coach Jim Boeheim for the most points scored in an NCAA Tournament and currently ranks second for most 3-pointers scored by a Syracuse player in an NCAA Tournament game. 

The Aztecs’ defense, which has only allowed 60 points per game (ranked 4th in the NCAA), was non-existent against Buddy Boeheim and allowed him to score 16 of the Orange’s 19 first points. 

As Boeheim continued to make shot after shot, the Aztecs were continually shut out from making any baskets as the Syracuse 2-3 zone shut them down. 

Syracuse ended the first half on an 18-0 run that left the Aztecs scoreless for the last 9:39 minutes of the first half. Additionally, the Aztecs gave away three turnovers during that time. 

Mitchell said it was tough to stop Boeheim after he got the entire Syracuse team going. 

“Buddy got it going for them,” Mitchell said. “He got on a hot streak and he never looked back so it was kind of tough to stop him after that, after letting him get in a couple good looks. He let those fall and the basket kind of look like the ocean for him. And then it kind of seemingly looked like that for the entire team and he was just tough to kind of fight back and fight back on the tough shots that didn’t go in for us.”

It wasn’t until 4:54 remaining in the first half that someone other than Boeheim scored when redshirt sophomore forward Robert Braswell made a 3-pointer. 

The Aztecs simply were not themselves. The strength of Syracuses’ defense was one thing, but even with open looks the Aztecs could not find anything to go in. Syracuse found a way to shut the Aztecs’ hottest shooters down. 

Mitchell ended the night with 17 points, shooting 1-for-9 on 3-pointers and missed the only free throw he shot. 

Schakel had the most 3-pointers with five, but ended the night going 6-for-16 from the field. 

Nearly every other player had five points or less. 

“I think the majority of our shots didn’t fall,” Schakel said. “My shots didn’t fall for me, nobody’s shots fell. When you don’t make shots and they do, I mean, both teams are tournament teams, and that was the difference.” 

Syracuse held the Aztecs to shooting 35.8% on field goals and 27.5% of 3-pointers where they made 11 of 40 attempts. On the other hand, the Orange lit up going 55.3% on field goals and 55.6% on 3-pointers.  

Although this tournament run didn’t go as long as the Aztecs had hoped, they still own the accomplishment of completing a season of college basketball in a year like no other. They end the season with a 23-5 record and walk away as the regular Mountain West Conference champions and the Mountain West Conference tournament champions. 

“I couldn’t be any more proud of a group of players to accomplish what we did this year,” Dutcher said. “All teams around the country dealt with COVID. We dealt with it, and finished our year hanging two conference championship banners, to have the honor of playing in this NCAA Tournament, and then coming up short. I just told the team: there’s only one team in this event that’s going to win every game. I was hoping we’d have an opportunity to make a deeper run at this thing, but it didn’t happen and that’s a credit to Syracuse and how well they played.” 

Six seniors walk away playing in what could be their last college basketball game. Dutcher has these players to thank for helping to build the foundation of San Diego State basketball. 

“I thank the seniors for all they’ve done for San Diego State University, and obviously me as a head coach spending four years with me. Jordan (Schakel), Matt (Mitchell), and Adam Seiko who was a redshirt junior coming in with me as a first time head coach, and the contributions they made to the program along with seniors Terrell Gomez, Josh Tomiać, Trey Pulliam. We just have a lot of class kids in there that gave their all for San Diego State University and just came up a little short in the tournament.”

It’s hard to reflect on a career when an NCAA Tournament loss is all that’s on the mind, but Mitchell is grateful for the time he spent as an Aztec. 

“Man, this loss hurts but my career as an Aztec has been amazing,” Mitchell said. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think coming in, I chose the right school. I think I chose to come back for my senior year making the right decision, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email