Three-Pointers Fall Short of Final Two : Providence Goes Cold, and Syracuse Is in Title Game, 77-63

Times Staff Writer

Providence's surprising run through the NCAA basketball tournament ended abruptly Saturday at the Superdome.

The Friars, seemingly lethargic and shooting erratically, were eliminated by Syracuse, 77-63, in a Final Four semifinal game that had little suspense or drama.

So Syracuse will make its first appearance in a title game Monday night, meeting Indiana, which defeated Nevada Las Vegas, 97-93, in the other semifinal.

It was Syracuse's third win over Providence this season--and 15th straight in seven years--and the most one-sided. The Orangemen beat the Friars, 89-85 and 90-81, in Big East games that were competitive. This one wasn't.

Syracuse led at halftime, 36-26, and Providence made only a token spurt in the second half, closing within nine points twice.

Providence shot only 36.4% and didn't even resemble the team that upset Alabama and Georgetown in the Southeast Regional.

The Friars came into the game as the nation's leading three-point shooting team. But the three-pointers weren't falling, nor were shots at closer range.

Providence, which was averaging 8.3 three-pointers a game, made only 5 of 19 this time. Guard Billy (the Kid) Donovan, a catalyst for the Friars the entire season, made only 3 of 12 shots (1 of 3 three-point shots) and finished with 8 points.

Donovan came into the semifinal game as the leading scorer in the tournament with 106 points.

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim credited guard Sherman Douglas with shutting down Donovan as he had in two previous games. Donovan scored only 37 points on 13-of-42 shooting in games against Syracuse this season.

The Orangemen were not impressive in winning. They shot only 45.3% and committed 20 turnovers but had a commanding advantage in rebounding, 53-29.

It was a lackluster game without much flair, not one that is worthy of a Final Four appearance.

Providence Coach Rick Pitino steadfastly claimed that it was mainly Syracuse's defense, not the Friars' poor shooting, that eliminated his team.

"We had an off shooting night, which is normally a credit to the defense you're playing," Pitino said. "One of the big points we made before the game was that they (the Orangemen) were a 66% foul-shooting team and that there would be a lot of missed free throws and that we had to block out.

"We weren't blocking out, and their wing-span advantage was too much for us. We just gave up too many second shots off missed free throws, and that was a big factor in the loss, as well as the defense they played in shutting us down."

Syracuse (31-6) is a balanced team, and all five starters were in double figures Saturday. Guard Greg Monroe led the way with 17 points, while 6-foot 10-inch center Rony Seikaly had 16 points.

But Boeheim, who likes to needle his center, who grew up in Greece, regarded Seikaly's game as ordinary.

"It was a good effort but not up to what I think he can do," Boeheim said, dryly.

Seikaly had averaged 26 points and 9.2 rebounds in 4 previous tournament games.

Even though Seikaly got only 6 rebounds while playing 31 minutes, someone asked Boeheim if he could win a national championship with his center's brutalizing, inside game.

"Ron hasn't brutalized anyone since he was born," Boeheim said with a straight face.

The Syracuse coach reasoned that his team's man-to-man defense and height superiority, with Seikaly and 6-9 forward Derrick Coleman inside, were key factors in the victory.

"We played Providence the same way (on defense) as we had before," he said. "I'm disappointed in some of the things we did offensively, but they're a very difficult team to play against.

"I thought the key was our defense and our rebounding. You have to play Providence a certain way and contain Donovan--and we have a guy (Douglas) who can do that. Greg (Monroe) and Howard (Triche) also contained (Ernie) Lewis and (Delray) Brooks.

"Now they have to go inside, and we have an advantage in there with our two people (Seikaly and Coleman)."

Lewis made only 2 of 12 shots and was wild (1 for 8) from three-point range. Brooks was 4 for 9 but only 1 for 5 in three-point shots.

Providence (25-9) was cold from the outset of the game and never really recovered. The Friars missed 10 of their first 12 shots, most of them uncontested by the Orangemen.

Nevertheless, Providence managed a 15-15 tie before Syracuse surged behind Coleman, who scored eight straight points in one stretch.

Syracuse's 10-point halftime lead was quickly increased to a 20-point bulge with a 13-3 run at the beginning of the second half.

Seikaly hit a short, turnaround jump shot, but Donovan countered with his only three-point basket. Douglas scored on a follow shot, Monroe made a three-pointer, Coleman got a free throw, Triche scored in close and then Seikaly finished off the run with a three-point play.

Even so, Syracuse has blown sizable leads this seasons. And it seemed that the Orangemen lost their composure for a while when Brooks and Douglas wrestled each other to the floor with 14:48 left and Syracuse leading, 49-31.

Providence forward David Kipfer then replaced Brooks as the designated scuffler. As scuffles go, it wasn't much. The officials didn't even assess a technical foul.

"It was just a normal Big East scuffle," Boeheim said. "The teams were playing hard, and two players just got locked up."

When play resumed, Providence whittled away at the lead to trail only 49-40. But Syracuse moved ahead again by 14 points before Providence sliced the lead to 58-49 on two free throws by freshman guard Carlton Screen, who was his team's leading scorer with 18 points.

It was at this juncture that Syracuse changed the tempo of the game, spreading out and taking time off the 45-second shot clock.

When Triche made a three-point play with 6:58 left, the Orangemen were ahead, 63-51, and Providence just sort of folded up, offensively and defensively.

Donovan said that Providence's inability to control Syracuse on the boards was the difference between the teams.

"If Seikaly and Coleman weren't blocking our shots, they were altering them and that was a factor," Donovan added.

Steve Wright, Providence's reserve center who had provided his team with a lift as rebounder, scorer and shot blocker in wins over Alabama and Georgetown, was almost a nonentity Saturday. He got into early foul trouble and fouled out in the second half after playing only nine minutes.

In the final analysis, the Friars seemed flat, physically and emotionally. It was a nice run while it lasted, but they couldn't sustain it.

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