Published January 13, 2015
After all that talk about improving on last year's NCAA tournament dud, Montana played even worse in its return trip.
Star guard Will Cherry shot just 1 for 12 and the 13th-seeded Grizzlies had no answers for No. 4 seed Syracuse's zone defense in an 81-34 loss Thursday night.
Montana shot just 20 percent from the field and trailed by at least 10 points for the final 35 minutes of the worst tournament defeat in Grizzlies history, topping a 92-54 loss against Kentucky in 1997.
"They jumped us pretty good and I think our guys maybe panicked a little when shots weren't going in," coach Wayne Tinkle said.
Brandon Triche scored 20 points and C.J. Fair added 13 to help Syracuse earn the most lopsided victory in NCAA tournament history for a team seeded third or lower, breaking a mark set about an hour earlier by fifth-seeded 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 big 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 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 jumpstarted us."
Syracuse advanced to play 12th-seeded and local favorite California (21-11) on Saturday for a spot in the East Regional semifinals 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.
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.
"Coach gave us a great game plan, we just couldn't really execute," said Kareem Jamar, who was tied for the team lead with five points for Montana. "And when we did execute it, we couldn't hit shots."
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 and make the final of the Big East tournament, and has now started the NCAAs off with a win for the fifth straight year.
For the second straight season, the Grizzlies won the Big Sky tournament to earn an NCAA bid only to fall flat in their opener. They lost 73-49 to Wisconsin a year ago, shooting 38 percent, including a 3-for-14 performance from Cherry.
He was hoping for a better result this year, especially with the game being played less than an hour from his hometown of Oakland. But he scored just two points and missed 11 of 12 shots.
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."
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 six 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," 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."
Instead, the Grizzlies trailed 30-11 after James Southerland's 3-pointer with less than six 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.