- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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PITTSBURGH — Quick thoughts on Syracuse’s 75-59 win against Kansas State in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Overview: Syracuse found the easiest way to change the narrative on its NCAA tournament run — play like a top seed.
Since the brackets were revealed Sunday, most everyone has wanted to talk about everything but the Orange’s actual basketball abilities — the premature loss in the Big East tournament, the suspension of Fab Melo, the controversial win against UNC Asheville.
Syracuse played a smart, decisive game against Kansas State, using every bit of its most powerful weapon — its bench — to win the game. The Orange's reserves outscored the Wildcats' depleted bench (without Jamar Samuels) to the tune of 33-0.
It was more than just a wave of players, it was how those players performed. The Orange took smart shots, shared the ball and, defensively, forced Kansas State (an average-shooting team) out of the paint.
There are still issues to overcome, namely Syracuse’s Achilles' heel of rebounding. The Orange were beaten on the offensive boards badly, 22-8, and will struggle especially against a team that is adept on the glass.
But the team that everyone has picked to lose finally reminded everyone why it was chosen as one of the favorites to win.
Turning point: Jordan Henriquez, who kept the Wildcats alive on most of their possessions with yeoman’s work on the boards, picked up his third foul with his team trailing 36-32. Though he didn’t sit long, Henriquez couldn’t afford to be as aggressive and the Wildcats’ offense fell apart.
Smelling the blood in the water, the Orange took over. Scoop Jardine led the charge, scoring six points and dishing out two incredible assists in a Syracuse dash that stretched the lead to 55-42. K-State could never recover.
Key player: Jardine, who’d been only average since the Big East tournament, played his best game in weeks. The senior scored 16 points and dished out eight assists, leading a Syracuse offense that looked far more in sync than it has in recent games.
Key stat: Kansas State shot just 4-of-17 from the arc. You cannot beat Syracuse if you can’t shoot. Sounds simple? It is.
The other equally big one: 33-0, that was the difference in the bench scoring between the teams.
Miscellaneous: Both teams were down a player. On Tuesday, Syracuse announced Melo would be out for the duration of the Orange’s NCAA tournament run because of eligibility concerns, and just 20 minutes before tipoff, Kansas State announced that Samuels was being withheld for similar worries. ... Without Samuels, Thomas Gipson was pressed into service. Gipson usually averages 17 minutes per game. He'd hit the 20-minute mark by the first media timeout of the second half. ... Vice President Joe Biden, a Syracuse alum, was in town for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Biden served as the grand marshal.
Next game: Syracuse will meet Vanderbilt or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in Boston. It’s the Orange’s first regional semifinal appearance since 2010. Syracuse lost that year to Butler and has not made an Elite Eight appearance since its national title run in 2003.