By JOHN KEKIS | AP
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Western Michigan was on a roll and seemed to have all the right pieces to give Syracuse a struggle in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Broncos had fifth-year seniors David Brown, the Mid-American Conference scoring champion, and hulking center Shayne Whittington to operate their inside-out game, and they were used to the Orange's zone defense.
None of that mattered on Thursday as Trevor Cooney scored 18 points, fellow guard Tyler Ennis had 16, and the Orange defense clamped down in a 77-53 victory over the MAC champ.
Syracuse (28-5) forced 11 turnovers in the opening half and scored 13 points off them in running out to a double-digit lead before the midpoint of the period. Syracuse used an 18-4 spurt over 10 minutes to take control and led 40-21 at halftime.
"We ran into a buzz saw today," WMU coach Steve Hawkins said. "We made too many mistakes in the first half. We had 11 turnovers in the first half and that's what staked them out to that lead.
"I felt like after we started taking care of the ball in the second half, we got a few better looks."
Western Michigan (23-10) had won 14 of 16 games and hadn't lost in regulation since January. Its first trip to the NCAA tournament in a decade won't soon be forgotten, regardless of Thursday's score.
"It's a successful season whenever your team plays as hard as it can play and reaches its level of competency," Hawkins said. "When you reach your ceiling, it's a success, and we reached our ceiling this year."
Whittington and Tucker Haymond led Western Michigan with 11 points apiece. Brown had a season-low nine points on 2-of-12 shooting, 2 of 10 from long range.
Jerami Grant finished with 16 points for the Orange, while C.J. Fair, double- and triple-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Syracuse rode its defense to the Final Four a year ago and the zone was stellar from the opening tip against the Broncos, who shot 4 of 18 (22.2 percent) from behind the arc and 17 of 49 (34.7 percent) overall.
Cooney hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc and Ennis had six assists with one turnover to spark the Orange, who shot 28 of 57 (49.1 percent) from the field, hitting 7 of 17 from long range.
"It was just good to see one go in," Cooney said. "It adds to your confidence a little bit, and I was able to get into a good rhythm and guys found me in good spots. The ball just went in today."
Since matching a school record with nine 3-pointers that keyed a six-point win over Notre Dame last month, Cooney had hit just 10 of 51 (19.6 percent) from beyond the arc. That abysmal shooting came during Syracuse's late-season swoon, which included a three-point loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament last week.
That's all forgotten now.
"Same guy," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He's just got to get his looks and take them. He's definitely stayed up the whole time. He's played the other parts of the game. It's a big difference when he makes shots."
Syracuse (28-5), the third seed in the South Regional, will play 11th-seeded Dayton (24-10) on Saturday. Dayton beat Ohio State 60-59 on Thursday.
The Broncos took care of the ball in the second half, losing it only twice, but the deficit was much too daunting to overcome as Syracuse dominated the glass 41-25 and scored 15 second-chance points.
The Broncos split two games with Eastern Michigan during the season, learning the nuances of the zone defense employed by Eagles coach Rob Murphy, an assistant at Syracuse for eight years before taking over at EMU.
Same system, maybe, but different personnel.
"They're long and athletic, and they make you second-guess where you want to throw the ball," Brown said. "I feel that we were hesitant. We turned the ball over way too much."
Whittington was hounded in the lane, unable to generate much, taking just seven shots. And while Brown was his usual self at the free throw line, he had only four chances, hitting three.
"We came out playing pressure defense," Fair said. "We weren't going to let them get comfortable."
Brown led the MAC at 19.4 points per game and earned MVP of the conference tournament after scoring a career-high 32 points that included five 3-pointers in the final against Toledo, and he makes a good living at the free throw line.
Brown was 196 of 254 (77.2 percent) from the line, most of the fouls coming while he was attempting one of the 237 shots he took from behind the arc. He found no room to roam against the Orange, missing three times from well beyond the 3-point line before finally hitting near the midpoint of the opening half.
Whittington is 6-foot-11 and 250 pounds, but Grant easily spun around him and slammed home a ferocious two-handed dunk to boost the Syracuse lead to 12-4.
"It was different," Whittington said. "We're not used to seeing that long of a front line in the MAC, but it shouldn't have affected us. I wasn't being aggressive enough."