Men's Basketball

Syracuse crucially shuts down Indiana’s All-American Zeller in 61-50 Sweet 16 triumph

Nate Shron | Staff Photographer

Cody Zeller struggles on the baseline against Baye Moussa Keita. The All-American center scored just 10 points and went 3-of-11 from the field Thursday night in the Verizon Center.

WASHINGTON – Cody Zeller had a target on his back. Syracuse placed an emphasis on keeping the ball out of his hands in the middle of its zone. When he’s able to catch the ball in the high post, he can quickly pass out to the arc, or forcefully drive the lane for a layup. The Orange had to eliminate the threat he posed.

Syracuse did exactly that. They turned Zeller into practically a nonfactor, as he scored 10 points, and made only three of his 11 attempts from the field. Four of his points came from the free-throw line, but they were his only real major damage. Removing Zeller as a threat was key for the Orange as it defeated Indiana 61-50 at the Verizon Center to move on to the Elite Eight.

“He got the ball a little bit away from the basket,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We forced him where he wasn’t underneath the basket, and we could help get back to him.”

The Orange was tough against Zeller defensively. Early in the game, Zeller drove the lane for a layup, but center Baye Moussa Keita stood firmly in his way to draw the charge. Zeller, who has a 25-pound advantage on Keita, sent Keita flying backward as Syracuse’s bench rose to its feet and cheered for Keita’s hard-nosed defense.

Zeller threatened the Orange because if he catches the ball in the middle, the zone has to collapse on him. If that happened, Zeller could pass to the perimeter to a number of capable shooters for the Hoosiers.

Instead, Syracuse essentially played him one-on-one and still paid attention to the shooters on the arc.

“We didn’t really want him to catch it,” Keita said, “but when he did, we just went in and got him.”

Indiana was considered the favorite in the game against Syracuse, and Zeller’s inside presence was much of the reason why. He could’ve been a nightmare for the Orange’s centers. But instead, they rose to the challenge and were tough defending him.

It seemed likely that Zeller’s immediate future would involve a trip to the Final Four. Now his future is uncertain. Whether he returns to play for Indiana next season or enters the NBA Draft remains to be seen.

But it was Syracuse’s defense Thursday that’s made that question much more relevant.

“I don’t know. I put everything into this,” Zeller said. “I haven’t thought about it one bit. I was just worried about playing this year.”

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