Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — The zone is purring again for Syracuse — and so is Trevor Cooney.
Cooney scored 18 points, breaking out of a long slump, fellow guard Tyler Ennis had 16, and the Orange defense clamped down in a 77-53 victory over Western Michigan on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
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.
Western Michigan (23-10), the Mid-American Conference champion, had won 14 of 16 games and was in the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.
The Orange 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.
The Orange used an 18-4 spurt over 10 minutes to take control and led 40-21 at halftime.
Cooney hit 4 of 8 from beyond the arc and Ennis had six assists with one turnover. Jerami Grant finished with 16 points, while C.J. Fair, double- and triple-teamed nearly every time he touched the ball, finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Shayne Whittington and Tucker Haymond led Western Michigan with 11 points apiece. David Brown, the MAC scoring champion, finished with a season-low nine points on 2-of-12 shooting, 2 of 10 from long range.
Syracuse rode its defense to the Final Four a year ago and the zone was stellar from the opening tip against the Broncos.
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.
"We hope it's a help," WMU coach Steve Hawkins said.
Same system, maybe, but different personnel.
The Syracuse defense had to focus on WMU's fifth-year seniors Whittington and Brown and did the job. 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.