Vermont shows resilience, but Orange too much to handle

As soon as this match-up was announced last Sunday on the CBS selection show, it was intriguing and filled with history.

Vermont holds an infamous place in the history of Syracuse basketball, one of the top programs in the nation.

In 2005 Vermont earned a 13 seed and was matched up against the fourth-seeded Orange of Syracuse. What ensued? The game that has since gone down as the most important game in the history of UVM athletics.

Vermont upset Syracuse in overtime by a score of 70-67 and became only the seventeenth team since the tournament format was changed to a 65-team field to be ranked thirteen and knock off a four seed.

This year when it was announced that Vermont had earned a sixteen seed against the top-seeded Syracuse, fans from both Syracuse and Vermont had to smile.

Vermont won the opening tip, immediately brought the ball over the half court line and ran a play for Maurice Joseph, who stepped into a three-pointer at the top of the key and put Vermont up 3-0; Vermont would not lead again.

Syracuse used an early 20-2 run to immediately put distance between themselves and Vermont and erase the hope for a 2005 repeat.

Early on, the Catamounts did not have an answer for the 2-3 zone of Syracuse and struggled to contain the transition and three-point attack of the Orange. But as the first half came to a close Vermont went on a 15-2 run which cut the Orange lead to 12 at half time.

Syracuse came out in the second half and made four three-pointers in the first four minutes to put the game out of reach for good, on their way to 79-56 win.

Wes Johnson led Syracuse with 18 points but the key for the Orange was their balanced attack offensively; five Syracuse players scored double figures.

“They’re all good. All of them can shoot. All of them rebound. They are really good in the zone,” junior Evan Fjeld said. “They get out in passing lanes and they make it difficult for you.”

In his last game wearing a Vermont uniform, senior Marqus Blakely recorded 17 points, nine rebounds and four steals.

“I told all the young guys you only get one chance in college. You have to play every game as hard as you can for 40 minutes,” Blakely said. “I wish every teammate the best and hopefully they can get back here. My freshman year we missed it by one. I just hope they don’t have to experience that and they’ll be able to get back here soon enough.”

Vermont shot only 5-22 from behind the arc, a percentage that makes it difficult against such a talented team as Syracuse.

“We just didn’t make shots. Even our good shooters, wide open, I kept thinking, ‘the next one will go in, the next one will go in.’ They did a great job taking our inside game out of it,” Vermont Head Coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m proud of our guys. They hung in there. We had some open looks and couldn’t do it. “