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A STEP FORWARD: Cooney regains shooting touch as No. 3-seed Syracuse cruises past No. 14-seed Western Michigan

first_imgBUFFALO, N.Y. — Trevor Cooney’s first 3-pointer was off the mark. He says his confidence never gets down when his shots aren’t falling, but starts like these had become familiar for the guard during Atlantic Coast Conference play.Less than a minute later, Rakeem Christmas gathered an offensive rebound and found Cooney on the perimeter for another open look. This time, he got it to go.“It was just good to see one go in and that just adds to your confidence a little bit,” Cooney said. “I was able to get into a good rhythm and guys found me in good spots.”The guard rode that momentum to his best shooting display since early February as Syracuse put together one of its best offensive performances of the season.Cooney finished with 18 points, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis each added 16 and the No. 3-seed Orange (28-5, 14-4 ACC) cruised to a 77-53 win over No. 14-seed Western Michigan (23-10, 14-4 Mid-American) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind a pro-SU crowd of 19,260 at First Niagara Center on Thursday. SU advances to play Dayton on Saturday at approximately 7:10 p.m.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textJim Boeheim had urged fans not to worry about its recent slump, insisting that Syracuse would be a good Tournament team, and on Thursday the Orange proved its head coach right.The Broncos were an overmatched opponent, but SU finally imposed its will in a game it was expected to win — something it was unable to do throughout most of the ACC season.Syracuse forced WMU into 11 turnovers in the first half, shot nearly 50 percent from the field and outrebounded Western Michigan 41-25.That last stat was the key to everything else.“We knew coming into the game that we were bigger than them and we really wanted to pound them on the glass,” Cooney said. “When Rak and Baye (Moussa Keita) get rebounds, if they can’t go up right away their thing is to look out and I’ve got to find the open spot. When I do that we do get easier shots.“We’ve got to look for that more.”Cooney went 5-for-10 from the field and finished 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, but nearly everyone on the roster was better offensively than their averages.Grant went 6-for-9. Ennis went 7-for-11 and drained one of his two 3-point attempts.The point guard scored in a variety of ways — he hit fadeaway jumpers off of ball screens and pulled of a transition spin move so pretty it would make Grant blush — but his 3 came in the same fashion as Cooney’s first make.“When we get offensive rebounds, we’ve got a bunch of guys who can really pass the ball,” Ennis said, “so we’ve just got to be ready for it and find the open spots.”By the time Ennis hit his only 3-pointer with 4:11 left in the first half, the game was already essentially decided. The Orange led by 18 points and was dominating the Broncos in every facet of the game.The biggest question mark on the entire SU roster, though, was Cooney. He’d slumped lately, but when his shots were falling early in the year Syracuse got off to a 25-0 start.“It’s really helpful,” Grant said. “When we have that, we’re a dangerous team.”It was only WMU, but the way that the Orange beat Western Michigan proved just how devastating SU can be. The defense was always there, but Cooney changes the complexion of the offense.When the second half opened, Syracuse was firmly in control, but Cooney kept firing. He gave the Orange its first bucket of the final frame with a pull-up jumper to the right of the free-throw line — a shot Boeheim would like to see him add to his repertoire.“He’s much too athletic to just be a shooter,” the coach said.But a couple minutes later, he did what he allegedly does best — and what SU needs him to do best. He caught the ball on the left wing and pulled up for a 3. Even through some contact, this one went in.He flexed and roared and walked in the other direction. For one day at least, Syracuse’s offense was back and, as many expected, it rested on Cooney’s shoulders.“I had some games where the ball didn’t go in for me. I made a lot of 3s this year, and I know I can make 3s,” Cooney said. “It was just about coming out and doing it.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 20, 2014 at 4:59 pm Contact David: [email protected] | @DBWilson2last_img read more