Syracuse looks to take down No. 14 Buffalo
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The upper New York chapter of the David/Goliath story will have a new twist when No. 14 Buffalo makes the 152-mile drive across I-90 to Syracuse on Tuesday.
Perennial 20-win program and 2003 NCAA tournament champion Syracuse is the team bringing the sling into the match at the Carrier Dome.
No. 14 Buffalo (10-0) remained one of nine undefeated Division I teams with a 73-65 victory over Southern Illinois on Saturday, when national sixth man of the year candidate Nick Perkins had 20 points and 11 rebounds.
Syracuse (7-3), meanwhile, fell out of the AP Top 25 after a 68-62 home loss to Old Dominion, when the Orange lost a 13-point lead and were outscored by 16 in the second half.
Adding fuel is the fact that the Bulls have a score to settle. They have lost the last 18 games in the series, including an 81-74 defeat last season in which Syracuse closed on a 14-6 run. The Bulls have not beaten the Orange since 1963.
The Bulls, who have won 10 straight for the first time since 1964-65, will meet No. 20 Marquette on Friday, the second of three teams on their Power Five menu. They vaulted into the AP Top 25 after a 99-94 overtime victory at West Virginia on Nov. 9.
"It's the biggest week of our nonconference season," Buffalo coach Nate Oats told reporters after the Southern Illinois game.
"I don't want to call it a make-or-break week, because it's not going to break our season if we don't do what we've been doing. But it's certainly a make week. If we can take care of business this week, we can pretty much guarantee ourselves an at-large bid, in my opinion."
Buffalo won the Mid-American Conference tournament to qualify for the NCAA tournament last season, then swamped Arizona in the first round before losing to Kentucky. Barring injuries or a big-time slump, the Bulls are on a similar path.
The Bulls ran into some difficulty when Southern Illinois went to a zone defense Saturday, as the Bulls lost a 19-point lead in the first half before recovering. That is notable inasmuch as Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense is its forte.
"We did get a little passive and it's something we've got to work on in practice," Perkins told the Buffalo News.
"If you work on zone offense, you've got to work on zone defense. It's something we're going to see against Syracuse, obviously, and it's something we're going to see all year, so we've got to work on it."
The Bulls shot 43.5 percent from the floor and made 7 of 30 3-point attempts against SIU. Perkins and leading scorer CJ Massinburg were 13 of 24 from the field but others struggled, and the Bulls overcame a 35-26 rebounding disadvantage by turning 22 Saluki turnovers into 23 points. They drew eight charging fouls.
Massinburg, who played with a wrapped right hand after suffering a jammed finger in practice Tuesday, had 14 points, including his 1,500th at Buffalo.
Syracuse had a five-game winning streak stopped by Old Dominion, its third nonconference loss this season after falling to Connecticut and then-No. 13 Oregon. The Orange have had as many as three nonconference losses six times in the previous 27 seasons, and they did not make the NCAA tournament in five of those.
"Every game is important," Syracuse forward Oshae Brissett told the Syracuse Post-Standard, "but it holds high value now. We want to get that win and show everyone again that we're still the same team."
Brissett was the ringleader in the Orange's victory over Buffalo last year, scoring 25 points and making all 16 free-throw attempts, including six down the stretch. He set a Carrier Dome record for most makes without a miss.
Tyus Battle had 23 points while playing the full game against Old Dominion and Elijah Hughes had 15, but Syracuse made only 33.3 percent from the field and was outrebounded 38-33.
The 'Cuse can rally around the fact that it already has beaten a ranked team, stopping then-No. 16 Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 28. Battle scored 20 points and Hughes had 18, including four of the team's 11 3-pointers. The Buckeyes shot 32.6 percent.
Of the Syracuse zone defense, Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said afterward: "It's like going to the dentist, and not just for a cleaning. You have to be able to endure that and weather that."
Buffalo has the Orange's attention.
"Buffalo's a really good team," Battle told reporters. "Really good defensively. They play fast. They've got good guards and they're ranked. We just have to be ready to play."
Updated December 17, 2018