ST. LOUIS -- Why is Syracuse in the field? How does a team lose five of its last six and still make it? What was the selection committee thinking?
The Orange answered everyone's questions Friday with a dominant second half in a first round Midwest Region beatdown of Dayton.
Freshman forward Malachi Richardson's 21 points led all scorers and junior Tyler Roberson's 18 rebounds were one shy of a program postseason record as Syracuse bagged a 70-51 decision at Scottrade Center.
In improving to 20-13, the 10th-seeded Orange flashed the form of their early season, when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis and jumped into the Top 25. Syracause will face upstart Middle Tennessee on Sunday.
"It just shows what this team is capable of doing when we're playing well," said freshman forward Tyler Lydon, who came off the bench to supply 14 points. "It's a huge confidence boost for us to win like this."
The seventh-seeded Flyers (25-8) came into this game struggling as well, going 4-4 to close the regular season, and quickly fell apart in the second half's first 12 minutes after trailing by only 30-28 at halftime.
Dayton missed shots in about every kind of fashion. It clanked open 3-pointers, failed to convert drives, couldn't find the range under duress and also bricked free throw after free throw. Its failures on offense clearly colored its efforts in other aspects.
"It wasn't what they were doing," Flyers coach Archie Miller said of Syracuse. "We missed two dunks, two breakaway layups and had three 3-pointers go in and out in the first half, or we might have been leading at halftime.
"Our problems offensively started to deflate us as the game went on. We didn't have enough juice."
Conversely, the Orange kept pouring it on. Richardson canned three 3-pointers and also drove with abandon, going 8-of-9 at the line. His 3-point play with 7:55 remaining capped a 26-5 spurt that gave them a 56-33 advantage, basically ending the game's competitive phase.
"He's not like a freshman," Miller said of Richardson. "He's got the green light and he's very talented. They've got three guys that can go off at any time and it only takes one of them to change a game. He was the one."
What Richardson missed, Roberson frequently cleaned up. At one point in the second half, the 6-foot-8 forward had 17 rebounds as compared to Dayton's 20. Roberson, who also added 10 points and three steals, just missed tying Derrick Coleman's effort of 19 boards in the 1987 national championship game against Indiana.
"It was just a matter of competing and playing hard," Roberson said of his performance. "It felt good to show people that we belonged."
Senior guards Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije added 13 and 10 points, respectively, as Syracuse advanced to Sunday's second round matchup against No. 2 Michigan State or No. 15 Middle Tennessee.
Guard Charles Cooke paced the Flyers with 14 points, but canned only 4 of 12 field goals. Guard Scoochie Smith finished with 12 points, hitting three 3-pointers in the first half before the Orange cut him off after halftime.
Roberson said the coaches emphasized denying Smith clean looks from distance during halftime.
"We gave him a harder time," Roberson said. "It starts with defense and they had a hard time scoring in the second half."
Dayton finished the day at just 32.1 percent from the field, 27.3 percent on 3s and 47.4 percent at the foul line. Syracuse hit only 39.6 percent of its field goals, but compensated by sinking 8 of 22 3s and 20 of 23 at the foul line while winning the board battle 48-28.
Simply put, it was the kind of performance that validated one of the selection committee's most controversial picks.
"We struggled a little bit rebounding the ball against everybody," Orange coach Jim Boeheim said. "It's not just one or two teams. We've struggled rebounding the ball. And that was the difference today -- we got the ball off the backboard."
NOTES: Syracuse G Michael Gbinije ranks fifth in Division I in minutes played, averaging 37.5 per game. ... Dayton's share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season title was its first since 2004. ... The NCAA sent nets that were longer than allowed by rules, so arena workers had to install other nets prior to tipoff.