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Zoned Out: West Virginia exits NCAA Tournament with upset loss to Syracuse

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Syracuse at West Virginia IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports

Like a broken record it is always said that the Syracuse zone is hard to prepare for. It’s hard to understand all of the wrinkles, how the zone shifts on the fly, how it adapts when you exploit a weakness. West Virginia proved it was true in the first half on its way to succumbing to the Orange in Indy on Sunday.

This matchup of old Big East foes started withe the Mountaineers having a deer-in-the-headlights look as they got up close and personal with the zone. Combined with a hot shooting start by Syracuse left the Mountaineers down 14, 30-16 with five minutes to go in the first half. West Virginia would rally and cut the deficit to six at half time as they began to figure out the zone.

Score at half, Syracuse 35, WVU 29.

Syracuse would strike first in the second stanza on a wing three by Marek Dolzaj. The Mountaineers responded with an Emmitt Matthew dunk on a great assist by Miles McBride.

With 9:53 to go, Sean McNeil’s third trifecta actually gave the Mountaineers the lead, 63-62.

Syracuse continued their hot shooting down the stretch, holding off the WVU surge after a couple of lead changes.

With :54 to go, West Virginia found themselves down 9 points when a McNeil triple cut the lead to six. A smothering press and layups by Emmitt Matthews and Taz Sherman, and an inbounding infraction the refs blatantly chose not to call, brought the Mountaineers within two to 74-72.

Buddy Boeheim made 1-2 free throws at the end of the game but a buzzer beater was not to be.

West Virginia’s seasons ends with a 75-72 loss to the Orange.

McNeil led the Mountaineers with 23 points, making 7 of 13 three points attempts. McBride finished with 11 points, seven assists and three steals.

West Virginia ends this bizarre season with a final record of 19-10 and potentially could return the entire roster next season.