DAYTON, Ohio (Ticker) -- Kansas is feeling sweet after avenging one of its most bitter defeats.
Using its superior size advantage and an ability to break down the zone defense, the Jayhawks advanced to the NCAA Tournament's "Sweet 16" for the first time in four years by rolling over Syracuse, 87-58, in a Midwest Region game.
Kansas, which dominated all but the final five minutes of the first half, held one of the biggest rebounding margins (56-23) in NCAA Tournament history and will play top-seeded Illinois in the regional semifinals on Friday.
"We're ecstatic at the way we played," said Kansas coach Roy Williams. "There was a stretch for about five minutes at the end of the first half where we didn't play so well. Otherwise it was one of our best games all year." Drew Gooden collected 17 points and 15 rebounds as the Jayhawks (26-6) handed the Orangemen their worst NCAA Tournament defeat. Syracuse suffered an 81-59 loss to North Carolina-Charlotte in the 1977 Mideast Region semifinals.
"We caught Syracuse when they had an off-day," Williams added. "We're still playing and we're ecstatic about that." While Sunday might have been the lowest point in Syracuse's storied NCAA history, one of the biggest moments in school annals also involved a contest with Kansas.
In the 1996 West Region final, Syracuse edged the second-seeded Jayhawks, 60-57, to advance to the Final Four en route to a second appearance in the national title game under Jim Boeheim, who recorded his 600th career victory in the first round this year.
A late run in the first half, capped by Allen Griffin's three-point play, brought the Orangemen within 39-34 at the break. But Kansas opened the second half with a 10-4 burst to go on top, 49-38, with just under 16 minutes remaining.
"We were upset (about the end of the first half)," said Gooden. "We came out in the second half and executed and played hard. If you're out there trying to win, and you only have 20 minutes to play, you give it your all." Syracuse (25-9) got no closer than nine points the rest of the way and the Jayhawks turned the contest into a rout shortly thereafter with a 13-2 burst. Eric Chenowih had six points in the spurt and Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich each added 3-pointers.
With the Orangemen already possessing a thin bench, Boeheim's two centers, 6-8 Jeremy McNeil and 7-foot Billy Celuck, both had four fouls early in the second half, allowing the Jayhawks to penetrate against Syracuse's zone.
Kansas scored several easy baskets in the lane over the final 20 minutes. And when the Jayhawks did miss, they grabbed rebounds against the Orangemen's stagnant frontline to retain possession.
DeShaun Williams and Preston Shumpert scored 20 points apiece for Syracuse, but 6-9 forward Damone Brown had one of his worst games of the season as he was neutralized by the Kansas frontline of Gooden, Chenowith and Nick Collison.
Collison had 13 rebounds and Chenowith five with 12 points. Guards Kenny Gregory and Jeff Boschee combined for 16 rebounds and 31 points for Kansas, which connected on 56 percent (29-of-52) of its shots.
The 33-rebound margin for Kansas tied for the fifth-largest in NCAA Tournament history. Notre Dame set the record by outrebounding Tennessee Tech, 86-44, in first round of the 1958 South Region.
"We knew a strength of our team was crashing the boards, staying around the rim and get our hands on it any way we can," Collison said. "We sort of rebound by committee; we try to do that every game." Brown, who came in averaging 16.8 points and a team-best 8.9 rebounds, was held to five points and five rebounds for the Orangemen, who finished at 30 percent (21-of-69) from the field, including 5-of-27 from 3-point range.
Boschee scored 16 points and Gregory added 15. Hinrich dished out six assists to go with his 10 points.
Syracuse committed just six turnovers while forcing 20 but was outscored at the foul line, 22-11.
On Friday, the Jayhawks will take part in the regional semifinals for the first time since 1997. They had been eliminated in the second round in each of the previous three years.