EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When you come to the big city, take good care of your belongings.
Mississippi State didn't last night. The Bulldogs had their pockets picked by Syracuse, which took its run through the NCAA tournament right to tomorrow night's title game with a 77-69 semifinal romp over the Bulldogs before 19,229 at the Meadowlands.
The Orangemen, considered the fourth-best team in the Big East Conference heading into the NCAA tournament, will be a heavy underdog against Kentucky, but they don't mind, since Mississippi State was another favorite.
"It's hard to figure this game sometimes," said Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, one of the nation's most-maligned coaches. "I can't figure it out, and I've been in it for a long time."
Actually, this one was pretty easy to diagnose.
The Orangemen (29-8) have never been accused of playing cerebral basketball, but they outsmarted the Bulldogs (26-8), who will spend the summer trying to figure out Syracuse's 2-3 zone. Mississippi State invested too much in three-pointers, were a step behind the Orange shooters on several crucial possessions, and had 21 turnovers to Syracuse's season-low five.
"All of us would agree that the turnovers were the key to the game," Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said. "We just turned it over entirely too many times."
Don't get the idea that Boeheim is in his second championship game with Ivy League talent. Senior forward John Wallace continued his audition for the NBA lottery with a sharp 40-minute performance, and every Orange player had his moments.
Wallace was the pivotal figure in the game's most telling sequence.
Dontae' Jones, whose 23 points sparked the regional final win over Cincinnati, took a jumper from the left side that would have gotten the Bulldogs within two with eight minutes left, but Wallace got a hand on it.
The two yapped at each other as they moved to the other end, where Wallace established solid position down low on the right side, dribbled to his left and lofted a soft 10-footer over Jones for a 54-48 lead with 7: 48 left.
"That was in a dangerous part of the game," said Wallace, who also got in some words after his basket. "It set the tone."
As did two Syracuse possessions a few minutes later. The Bulldogs got within 56-53 on a pair of second-chance baskets, and with Russell Walters, Wallace's shadow, on the bench with his fourth foul, Williams switched from man-to-man defense to a zone.
Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims set up sophomore Todd Burgan's three-pointer on the left side, then fed Wallace for a foul-line jumper and a 61-53 lead with 4: 33 left.
After two free throws by Jones and a Syracuse miss, Mississippi State had a chance to climb within four, but Jason Cippola stole the Bulldogs' outlet pass, flipped the ball to Sims, and got it right back for a three-pointer.
A few minutes later, it was a scene out of the Carrier Dome, where Orange players have been known to pose for photos during pre-game warm-ups. Wallace, who considered going to the NBA last year, screamed "One more, baby, one more!" to the Orange fans. Sims tossed the ball into the stands.
Syracuse was a No. 4 seed and Mississippi State a No. 5 seed, but the Bulldogs were favored on the basis of wins over Georgia and Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament, and conquests of Connecticut and Cincinnati in the Southeast Regional.
The Bulldogs got three-pointers in the first five minutes from Jones, point guard Marcus Bullard and shooting guard Darryl Wilson, who finished with 20 points, but in the process all-SEC center Erick Dampier got lost in the offense.
"Sometimes against a zone team, when you make the outside shot early, you think it's going to be easy," Boeheim said. "They took more threes than they normally do."
It was 36-all at the half, but Mississippi State knew it was in trouble, because the Bulldogs had made 63.6 percent of their shots and had a 19-6 bulge in rebounds. Thirteen turnovers were the culprit. They protected the ball better in the second half, but half of their 34 shots after intermission came outside the arc.
Wallace had a game-high 21 points. He occupied the Bulldogs' thoughts in the first half, when center Otis Hill took it to Dampier and scored all 15 of his points on seven-of-nine shooting. Burgan, in a horrible shooting slump recently, made four of five in the second half en route to 19 points, his most since January.
Sims had 11 points, nine assists and not a single turnover, a stark contrast to his counterpart. Bullard had 11 points and eight assists, but nine turnovers, as the sophomore from Long Beach, Miss., got a lesson in the city game.
Giving it away
Turnovers and an inability to get to the free-throw line against Syracuse helped end Mississippi State's season yesterday:
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . ..MS .. .. .. ..SU
Turnovers .. .. .. .. .. ...21 .. .. .. ...5
Pts. off turnovers .. .. .. .5 .. .. .. ..25
Free throws .. .. .. .. .. .6-6 .. .. ..20-24
Pub Date: 3/31/96