In a matter of hours Friday, No. 17 turned the shock of losing starting center Etan Thomas into a stunning victory over Princeton.
While Thomas was taking antibiotics in a hospital bed to treat an abscess in his groin area, No. 17 Syracuse regrouped after a team meeting and humbled the Tigers 60-43 in the first round of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Classic.
"We found out this afternoon we wouldn't have Etan," coach Jim Boeheim said after his 550th career victory. "I told the team we had to make up for that. We knew what we had to do. It was time to step up."
"It's one of those things you have to adjust to at the last second," Blackwell said of Thomas's sudden illness. "You really don't have a lot of time to think about it. You have to focus at the task at hand."
Syracuse will play Wisconsin in the championship Saturday night. The Badgers defeated Missouri 66-55 in the tournament opener earlier Friday.
"They're a great defensive team," Boeheim said. "They've got big bodies inside, they bang you. Tomorrow night's a game you really wish you had Etan. This will be a tough game."
Boeheim said Thomas would not be ready to play in the championship, but the way the Orangemen stifled Princeton, he was barely missed.
The Tigers were held to just 11 points in the first half, a Carrier Dome record for futility. And everything they have come to rely on for their success tenacious defense, deadly 3-point shooting and constant motion on offense resulting in backdoor layups did not work.
The Tigers shot just 23.8 percent in the first half, hitting only 1-of-10 shots from 3-point range, and had nine turnovers nd only two assists while Syracuse was running off a 16-0 spurt to take a commanding 27-6 lead.
"When they had six (points), we went zone and they didn't score, so we stayed with it," Boeheim said. "I think they didn't score on about 10 possessions and we took control of the game."
Not only did Blackwell shut down Princeton center Chris Young, helping to hold him to one basket until he hit a 3 in the final minute of the period, he scored 11 of Syracuse's first 19 points. And once Syracuse shifted to a 2-3 zone, Jason Hart took advantage, converting three steals into six easy fast-break points for the Orangemen.
"They're famous for their 2-3 zone, and we prepared for it the best we could," Princeton coach Bill Carmody said. "They did a heck of a job defensively. Our passing was very tentative."
Trailing 34-11 at halftime, the Tigers found their long-range shooting touch in the second period. C.J. Chapman hit two 3-pointers and Young hit another to help pull Princeton within 42-25 with 13:47 left.
A 3-pointer by Ahmed El-Nokali got Princeton within 49-36 with 6:15 left, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
Hart had 14 points and Damone Brown had 13 for Syracuse.
Young led the Tigers with 12 points, Eugene Baah had 11 and Chapman 10.
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