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High school boys basketball: Syracuse rallies for 6A first round win over Cyprus

SHARE High school boys basketball: Syracuse rallies for 6A first round win over Cyprus
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MAGNA — It has been a tough season for the Syracuse Titans.

They came into their opening-round game against Cyprus as the 22nd seed in the 6A boys state basketball tournament and had posted only one win — in overtime, no less — away from their home court all season. Coach Troy Anderson said they have been undersized against almost every opponent.

But one thing the Titans can do is make free throws. On Wednesday night, Brandon Clark was asked to keep Syracuse’s season going, and he responded by making 5 of 6 charity shots, as Syracuse rallied to claim a 62-55 road win.

“Give credit to Syracuse. Ramirez started it when he made those shots and they made the plays when they needed and earned it. Until we learn to do that, we’re always going to have this monkey on our backs.” — Cyprus coach Tre Smith

“It’s like David vs. Goliath every game for us,” Anderson said, “and David hasn’t fared all that well.

“We practice them (free throws) every day,” he added. “Every guy we had in the game at the end was a good free-throw shooter and I knew they could make them. We’ve played in a tough region (1) and you have to knock them down if you expect to win.”

Syracuse shot nearly 76% from the line during the season, and Cyprus coach Tre Smith admitted his scouting report didn’t give his squad many options at the end.

The Pirates used the inside scoring talent of MJ Tia and Justus Jackson-Fobbs to hold a narrow lead for most of the game. It was 39-39 with less than six minutes left, though, when Syracuse broke their full-court press and Ethan Ramirez drained a 3-pointer from the corner. Ramirez hit another on the Titans’ next possession and when Connor Saunders kept Tia from getting a clear shot and then grabbed one of his 13 rebounds, they saw a rare opportunity to earn a win and have a fun bus ride home.

With 2:44 left, Cyprus decided to foul and chose Clark, who missed his first attempt but swished the next for a 50-46 lead. After another defensive stop, Saunders felt the momentum and was fouled as he scored. An 80% shooter from the line, he made the ensuing free throw and Cyprus couldn’t get within four points.

Clark provided most of the breathing room with four more free throws, and Cyprus had its chances to match. Despite its home-court advantage and a decent-sized crowd, the Pirates made only 50% from the line in the final quarter and saw its hopes end with a 15-9 record.

Tia and Fobbs each had 17 points for the Pirates. Fobbs also had a couple of highlight-reel dunks.

Smith said he was proud of his team’s season, but the Pirates still have not won a post-season game in his seven years there.

“Give credit to Syracuse,” he said. “Ramirez started it when he made those shots and they made the plays when they needed and earned it. Until we learn to do that, we’re always going to have this monkey on our backs.”

The Titans improved to 7-16 overall and advanced to play Skyridge in Friday’s quarterfinal, where they will be asked to try to win on the road again.