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Indiana befuddled by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone

- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2013

The end looked like a double line of reporters and cameramen shifting from side to side in the white cinder block hallway leading to Indiana University's locker room.

Long after midnight Friday at the Verizon Center, the line snaked past red and white striped warm-up pants piled in a corner next to idle managers. A bowl of oranges, apples and bananas had no customers. Meals in blue boxes stamped with Georgetown's logo sat untouched on a table.

And, finally, the stuffy, still room where the other side of March unfolded.

There's no easy way for a season to end, as top-seed Indiana's did minutes earlier in the 61-50 loss to No. 4 Syracuse in the NCAA tournament's East Regional semifinal.

The means of exit, however, seemed especially painful for Indiana. The powerful offense that ranked among the country's top-10 teams in points, field goal percentage and 3-point shooting crumpled against Syracuse's fluid, adaptive 2-3 zone defense.

The defense is as much a part of Syracuse basketball as Otto the Orange, the mascot who vaguely resembles fruit of the same name. There wasn't any surprise, much as Indiana appeared befuddled by the long-armed, trapping scheme that left the Hoosiers' undersized guards ineffective. Indiana finished with more turnovers (19) than field goals (16) and didn't hit its first 3-pointer, one of the best ways to undo a determined zone, until 1:27 remained in the first half.

"You can't prepare for how tall and long they are," senior Jordan Walls said.

He assumed the preferred posture in a defeated locker room: elbows resting on knees, hands clasped, stare directed at the blue carpet.

Eleven television cameras worked through the room in search of questions about silver linings and good memories and the program's revival under Tom Crean.

The coach, though, had few answers, as if the zone's reach extended beyond the reach of 40 minutes on the court.

"Let's face the facts," Crean said, "we haven't seen a zone like that all season."

The detritus of defeat littered the room: two empty Rice Krispies Treats wrappers, a half-eaten banana in an empty locker, the Indiana carpet mat in the middle of the room trampled by enough reporters to violate any fire code.

Voices stayed low. Hands stayed clasped. Eye contact disappeared. A camera clicked.

"That's what they pride themselves on," sophomore Cody Zeller said of the zone. "They're long and athletic and they force a lot of turnovers. That's what they do."

Mock NBA drafts projected the rail-thin center as a lottery pick in June. But Syracuse muscled and pushed and trapped him out of the contest. He didn't have any more answers than the rest.

That's March's pain. An early-morning search for an explanation that won't come, digesting the end in an unfamiliar city, an unfamiliar locker room at the end of a long hallway.

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