MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP)—Syracuse was willing to pack in its zone defense, daring Memphis to fire away from 3-point range.
The Tigers took the bait, and suffered a terrible shooting performance from the outside.
The defensive strategy, along with 24 points and six assists from Jonny Flynn helped No. 11 Syracuse to a 72-65 victory over the No. 23 Tigers on Saturday night.
“(Memphis) is not exactly the best shooters, so we wanted to play to our strength,” said Orange guard Andy Rautins. “Our strength was packing in the zone and not letting them drive, because that’s what they like to do.
“Our main focus was to keep them outside the arc, and let them try to beat us at the 3-point line.”
The zone was effective enough that Memphis shot 34 percent in the game. The Tigers (6-3) were just 7-of-33 outside the 3-point arc.
Paul Harris added 15 points and eight rebounds for Syracuse (11-1), while Rick Jackson finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
Flynn, who was questionable for the game because of an ailing hip that he hurt in the second half against Canisius on Wednesday, was 9-of-17 from the field. He said he was unable to walk or turn in either direction after the injury, and praised the Syracuse training staff for getting him ready.
“This was his biggest night,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of Flynn. “He’s struggled a little bit the last couple of games, and (Saturday) he stepped up early and kept us in there.”
Roburt Sallie and Pierre Henderson-Niles led Memphis with 12 points apiece, as the Tigers lost for the third time in their last five games.
“Roburt Sallie, with what he did, earned some minutes,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “Roburt maybe moved by about six guys on the team.”
Despite the terrible shooting night, particularly from outside, Memphis was still within 60-57 with just over five minutes to play. But Syracuse would make enough free throws down the stretch to hold on for its second straight win, after its only loss of the season came on a desperation shot by Cleveland State on Monday night.
The Orange were without starting guard Eric Devendorf, the team’s second-leading scorer, who is under university suspension after he was accused of hitting a female student on Nov. 1.
The rest of the team heard the whispers that without Devendorf, they didn’t have a chance playing the seemingly more athletic Tigers at home.
“Everybody counted us out,” Flynn said.
“That’s just more motivation,” Harris added.
Syracuse already has wins this season over nationally ranked Florida and Kansas, last season’s national champion. Meanwhile, Memphis entered the game having lost to ranked teams Xavier and Georgetown.
With the Syracuse zone packed into the paint, Memphis was left to pass the ball around the perimeter looking for an opening. There was little reason for the Orange to extend because Memphis made only one of 15 shots from outside the arc in the first half.
The Orange initially weren’t shooting much better, hitting only one of their first seven shots from 3-point range, but they would get better as Memphis continued to misfire.
“It was smart that we played zone the whole game because they couldn’t make a 3 for nothing,” Harris said of Memphis.
Flynn was the offensive spark for the Orange in the first half. His 3-pointer from the top of the key stopped Memphis’ 9-0 run, then hit another 3 from near the same spot.
The Orange eventually would close the half on a 15-6 run, including the last seven points, to carry a 35-33 lead into the break. Syracuse hit seven of it last 10 shots from the field, including all three of its 3-pointers.
Flynn finished the half with 12 points.
The two teams remained close in the second half. Calipari kept grasping for anyone who could make a shot, continually shuffling players as Memphis missed 18 of its first 19 from long range. Nothing worked as Syracuse sloughed off on defense. Boeheim even told Calipari after the game that the Tigers were a bad shooting team.
“It was hard to watch,” Calipari said. “I was just groping to find five guys that would play.”
Memphis would take a 53-52 lead with 8:50 left, but Flynn answered the basket and the Orange didn’t trail the rest of the way.
“We’ve got to figure out how to play,” Calipari said. “There are other teams right now groping the same way we’re groping. There are about 40 of them out there.”