Trevor Cooney leads Syracuse past Western Michigan in NCAA Tournament
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BUFFALO - For Syracuse, this game was the equivalent of comfort food. It was something for the Orange to sink their teeth into and savor while feeling right at home. With an emphasis on the latter.
Syracuse's 77-53 victory over Western Michigan in its first NCAA Tournament game of 2014 was played only two hours from campus. That was great news for the many orange-shirted spectators who made the trip and were vocal. It didn't hurt the team, either.
"We have a lot of great fans and they travel well. And to be so close to home was definitely good for us," guard Trevor Cooney said. "When you get going and you get some stops and you score and you get the crowd behind you, it definitely adds to it."
On the other hand, as coach Jim Boeheim said, "It's good to have fans, but they don't score. You've still got to play. We've lost games close to home in the past. We've won 3,000 miles away in the past. All these teams have played on the road in tough places and I don't think that's going to matter in terms of determining who's going to win a game in this tournament."
What really was comforting for third-seeded Syracuse (28-5) against mid-major Western Michigan (23-10) was Cooney's three-point shooting. In his previous five games, he went 9-for-42 from that range, which is supposed to be his strong suit. On Thursday, he found a rhythm early, shot 4-for-8 from outside the arc and led the Orange with 18 points.
"My confidence was never down,'' he said. "I mean, I had some games where the ball didn't go in for me. I made a lot of threes this year, and I know I can make threes. It was just about coming out and doing it."
When Boeheim was asked about the difference in Cooney on Thursday, he said, "Same guy. He's just got to get his looks and take them. I think he's been aggressive. If you're a shooter, you've got to be aggressive."
The team knows that when Cooney is hitting his shots, the game is easier for everyone else, including Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis, who scored 16 points each, and C.J. Fair, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
At the same time, the Orange's zone defense never allowed Western Michigan to get in the game (the score was 40-21 at halftime). Syracuse targeted David Brown, who was averaging 19.4 points but was held to nine points and 2-for-12 shooting.
"Well," Boeheim said, "we wanted to get out on him and not let him get comfortable."