Houston — The block against Gonzaga achieved the asterisk of a game-saver. Tyler Lydon, with time ticking down on Syracuse’s Sweet 16 game against the Zags, swatted a shot by Josh Perkins to finish Gonzaga and advance the Orange in the NCAA Basketball tournament.
For Lydon, this NCAA Tournament has served as a showcase of his burgeoning defensive capabilities. The SU freshman blocked an average of 1.3 shots per game during the Orange regular season. In four NCAA Tournament games, Lydon is eliminating 4.5 opposing shots per outing.
He’s swatting big guys. He’s swatting little guards. He’s taking his shot-blocking to a previously unexplored level. His 18 blocked shots in the NCAA Tournament tops the 16 blocks Derrick Coleman achieved in six games of the 1987 NCAA Tournament.
“I’m sure he blocked more shots in this tournament than any player
we’ve ever had,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said. “If he didn’t, it’s got to be close to it.
17, I don’t know, crazy numbers for a skinny kid that everybody in Syracuse said he can’t play center.”
Lydon is 6-foot-8 and weighs 205. What he lacks in bulk, he compensates for in athleticism and basketball acumen. Lydon said he’s unsure why his ability to block shots has risen so dramatically in the NCAA Tournament.
“I haven’t really tried to change anything in my game defensively. I just try to play smart, obviously,” he said. “But I think it’s me just realizing that defense is really what’s going to matter for us to win games. We have to lock down on defense. It kind of gives me that extra little oomph, or burst of energy, I like just to go out and play harder on the defensive end.”
The long stretches between games, he said, has enabled Orange coaches to delve deeper in scouting reports, to break down offensive tendencies of each player SU has faced in the NCAA Tournament.
“So you’re able to key in on a couple different things that they might do,” Lydon said. “But for the most part, our preparation hasn’t really changed. It’s just a matter of me staying active. I’ve tried to be way more active these past couple games. And I think that’s really helped.”
Lydon plays center and forward for the Orange. From a shot-blocking perspective, he said, he prefers the forward spot, mostly because it allows him to catch an opponent unaware.
“I think it’s a lot easier to block coming from the forward, just coming down,” Lydon said. “A lot of times, if a guy’s posting up, he’ll spin back over one shoulder and he doesn’t really see you. You kind of just sneak up on him. Those are my favorite kind of blocks. I think they’re also a little easier. You might have more opportunities at the five, just because guys like to drive in straight on. So I guess it depends. But I’d say it’s easier from the forward spot.”
The emergence of Lydon as a rim protector has strengthened a Syracuse defense that has improved overall in the NCAA Tournament. SU blocked an average of 4.1 shots per game during the season. In the NCAA Tournament, the Orange is swatting 7.5 shots per contest.
Lydon has led SU’s block brigade.
“He’s been huge,” Gbinije said. “And he’s been battling guys bigger than him night in and night out.”