Lydon will be scrambling on Friday. The 6-foot-9 basketball player will be running a fast break, rushing to beat the clock.
That would be Zach Lydon, actually.
He has an important class presentation in college at SUNY Cortland in the afternoon, then he’ll race to the airport. While he does that, his little brother, Tyler Lydon, will be preparing for a basketball game later that evening.
It happens to be the biggest game of Tyler Lydon’s young career thus far as the Elizaville native helps lead the Syracuse University men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament.
Tyler’s family plans to join him in Chicago on Friday and Zach, who initially believed he wouldn’t be able to make it there because of his classroom obligation, managed to purchase an airline ticket last minute.
He and Tyler had been disappointed that the big brother — the one whom Tyler credits for having greatly influenced his career — wouldn’t be able to come see him. But Zach will rush from school to Syracuse Hancock International Airport and board a 5:15 p.m. flight to Chicago. Barring a delay, he should have just enough time reach the arena before tipoff.
With victories over Dayton and Middle Tennessee State last weekend, in part because of Tyler Lydon’s strong play, Syracuse advanced to the tournament’s Sweet 16 round. With the field of 68 teams now down to 16, the Orange face Gonzaga at approximately 9:40 p.m. Friday in Chicago. The game will be televised on CBS.
“This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” said Tyler Lydon, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward. “A lot of us have high emotions right now and I’m a little anxious because of the hype around (the game). But I think it gets a little easier as you get into the flow of playing in these big-stage games.”
While at Stissing Mountain High School, Lydon and his brother led the Pine Plains basketball team to a state Class C final in 2013. But this platform now, at the collegiate level, is far more grand and will be viewed by millions around the country.
His family included, of course. After all, they’re planning a “Sweet 16” party at the United Center. No matter that Tyler is 19.
His parents, Timothy and Susan, and their two younger sons packed into their minivan on Thursday morning and began the 13-hour drive to Illinois. They want to cheer Tyler on in person and watch up close as their boy, already a local hero, flourishes in the national spotlight.
“It means the world to have them come here and support me,” Tyler said.
Tyler has scored 14 points in each of Syracuse’s two tournament games and in its 75-50 win over Middle Tennessee State on Sunday, he added seven rebounds and a season-high six blocks. In both games, he has surpassed his regular-season averages of 10.1 points and 6.4 rebounds. The Orange is 21-13.
“I don’t know if I can say I saw this coming, especially with how they ended the season,” Timothy Lydon said, referring to Syracuse’s three straight losses before entering the tournament as a 10th-seeded underdog. “It’s been exciting to see them succeed and we had to go out to Chicago to root for Tyler. There’s no way we could miss this.”
Timothy Lydon took off work from the construction company he runs and Tyler’s little brothers are off from school on spring break, which makes the timing convenient. The family slept over in Indiana on Thursday night and plan to finish the final leg of the trip Friday morning. They expected the road trip to go smoothly, so long as Jacob, 15, and Logan, 12, could limit the backseat bickering.
Zach had wanted to meet up with his family and travel together. But that presentation for his sports management class is really a big deal. So big that he couldn’t skip it or reschedule, try as he did. It’s a group assignment and he would jeopardize his and his three partners’ final grades. Plus his entreaties to the professor were declined. But Zach eventually found a flight that would fit his schedule — just barely — and sprang for the ticket.
“It would’ve hurt not being able to go and see him,” the 21-year-old said. “It means the world to me, so I’m excited to go out there. It just shows our bond, that I’m ready to drop everything to support my best friend.”
He, along with childhood friends Justin Cooper and Rob Galm, frequently drove from Cortland to Syracuse to watch Tyler during the regular season. The group had planned to watch the game on TV, that is until Zach delivered the good news.
“I’m honored that he would try so hard to come see me,” Tyler said. “That means so much to me.”
And therein lies a bit of added motivation. Well, aside from the obvious desire to win and continue Syracuse’s pursuit of a national championship and advance to the Elite 8 round.
“I’m trying to make Zach and my whole family proud,” Tyler Lydon said. “He’s a big reason I’m in the position I’m in now in basketball.”
The two, admittedly, didn’t always get along during high school. Zach said he saw Tyler’s potential immediately, so he made it his duty to push him as best he could. (“Yeah, he pushed my buttons,” Tyler joked.) Nothing came easy. Zach would guard his little brother physically in practice and get in his face frequently. Occasionally, tempers flared and the hard fouls led to scuffles.
It was less a sibling rivalry than it was gruff sensei and annoyed pupil. But all of it, Zach said, was with the purpose of making Tyler tougher and fanning that competitive fire.
Their time apart, ironically, brought them closer. After his junior year at Stissing Mountain, Tyler transferred to a prep school in New Hampshire and Zach enrolled in a prep school in Maine. “It was at that point that we realized how much we missed each other,” Tyler said, “and I grew to appreciate what he did for me. He’s my best friend.”
Zach missed most of Cortland’s basketball season after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his knee in December. His rehab is ongoing, but the downtime has allowed him to more closely observe Tyler’s game — analyze it, as a brother and fellow player, and offer critiques and suggestions.
There were some pointers shared this week as Tyler prepares for one of his toughest challenges yet. Gonzaga (28-7), with its potent offense, is averaging 79.4 points per game. The 11th-seeded Bulldogs are led by the high-scoring forward tandem of Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, who stand 6-10 and 6-11, respectively. Lydon will be tasked with doing his part in containing them defensively and helping offset their offensive production with his own scoring.
“I’m excited,” Tyler said. “It’s amazing to have my family with me.”
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 11 Gonzaga
What: NCAA tournament Midwest regional semifinal
When: Friday, approximately 9:40 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago