03/20/2014 05:13 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT

Canada's Ennis leads Syracuse past Western Michigan in March Madness opener

BUFFALO, N.Y. - The mini basketball nets that hang all over Tyler Ennis's home in Brampton, Ont., have taken a beating over the years.

In a family of six athletic kids, everything becomes a competition.

The 19-year-old Ennis led the Syracuse Orange to a 77-53 victory over Western Michigan in their opening game of March Madness on Thursday, running the offence with a quiet confidence developed over years of playing alongside two bruising older brothers.

"Very competitive," dad Tony McIntyre said of his kids. "Those Fisher Price nets, and the ones you hang on the door, they'd break those off. Then you'd hammer them into the ceiling in the basement. They'd break those.

"It would get heated. You'd have to break up fights. Out on the street when they'd play two-on-two or one-on-one, someone would always end up upset and kicking the ball down the street."

Ennis, who led Syracuse to a No. 3 seed and the school's 37th berth in the NCAA tournament, scored 16 points and doled out six assists in Thursday's resounding victory at First Niagara Center.

Ennis's 22-year-old brother Dylan — a sophomore guard at Villanova — was scheduled to play later Thursday in Buffalo when the Wildcats took on Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Tyler Ennis, one of a crop of rising Canadian stars playing in March Madness, led the Orange to a 25-0 start to this season and the No. 1 ranking in the NCAA for three consecutive weeks, before the Orange lost five of seven games down the regular-season stretch.

But with the rookie Canadian point guard running the offence, the Orange dominated from the outset in their tournament opener versus No. 14 Western Michigan. Eighty seconds after tipoff, Ennis stole the ball and fed Jerami Grant for a massive dunk for Syracuse's first points, serving notice of the carnage to come.

"We had great energy and that's a key for us going forward," Ennis said. "We've got to play intense and play a full 40 minutes, and everybody was kind of locked in for that."

Ennis wasn't the only Canadian to figure prominently on a day that began with the playing of both the U.S. and Canadian anthems (a few puzzled journalists grumbled openly about the latter).

Dyshawn Pierre of Whitby, Ont., scored 12 points and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds to lift Dayton to a 60-59 win, setting up a third-round meeting between Ennis and Pierre, former club teammates.

"I think a lot of people recognize how much we have contributed to our teams. . . 25 guys in the tournament, that's a big step for us going forward, to not only play on Division 1 teams, but also to contribute," Ennis said.

If Thursday's jam-packed border crossing was any indication, there were plenty of Canadian fans among the mostly orange-clad crowd of 19,260.

"Playing in Buffalo, this is probably the closest we could get," Ennis said. "To have everybody here, to have Syracuse fans but also Canadians, it's a great feeling to know everybody is behind you."

Ennis, who's on this week's regional cover of Sports Illustrated, is the third oldest in a family full of basketball players. His oldest brother Brandon is graduating this year from the University of the District of Columbia.

McIntyre coached the boys on their AAU team — CIA Bounce — that included Kansas Jayhawks star Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, last year's No. 1 NBA draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"They've put a lot of work in," McIntyre said of his sons. "We sat down when they were young and this was what they wanted to do. So as a parent, you have to let them chase their dream."

Ennis, touted as a first-round NBA draft pick this season, has played most of his life with older players, and from the outset he loved being the facilitator on the floor, setting up plays, helping others score.

"It's given him that quiet confidence that he can go even at a younger age and still be an integral part and get people involved," McIntyre said.

He can also score. At the FIBA under-19 world championships last summer, Ennis was the tournament's top scorer.

When he was left out of last year's McDonald's All American Game — the U.S. marquee high school all-star event that boasts a star-studded alumni including Michael Jordan and LeBron James — he famously went out and dropped 53 points for his St. Benedict's Prep high school in New Jersey. He did that an hour after his coach learned of the snub.

"All the ability is there," said Rowan Barrett, assistant GM of Canada's men's program. "And a competitive fire. And a ton of humility as well."

The family, said McIntyre, is as tight as it is competitive. The kids watch each other's games when they can. They try to speak every day.

McIntyre organizes family chats via instant messenger.

"We're really close so, so we have a chat every single day. . . seeing when they practise and who's doing what at school, and who played well. . . just trying to share experiences so they can help each other through," McIntyre said.

The family was thrilled to see two teams play in one city after a winter spent traversing northeastern United States.

McIntyre and his wife Suzette Ennis-McIntyre attended most of the boys' home games. Syracuse is about a four-hour drive from Brampton, and it's also on the way to Villanova in Philadelphia.

"So there were times when I could take a couple of days off work, get a game in Syracuse, go to Villanova and get a game or two, and on the way back get a game in Syracuse again," McIntyre said.

"Or I would go there and my wife would drop me off and she'd keep driving down to Philadelphia and go watch Dylan and then the next week I would drop her off in Syracuse and go down and watch Dylan.

"So we tried to split it evenly as much as we could in terms of getting out to both of their games, and making sure we were supporting them."

There are two younger sisters — Brittany, who's 15 and 10-year-old Dominique — who both play basketball.

And four-year-old Tyylon likes to think he does.

"He turns on the TV and sees his brothers on TV and he'll go on the iPad and download videos off YouTube and watch those," McIntyre said, laughing. "We have a net downstairs so whatever they do on the videos he does on the nets.

"We always ask him 'Who do you play for?' Every single days he says Villanova or Syracuse. Or he's Anthony Bennett or Andrew Wiggins."

Thursday's game might as well have been a home affair for Syracuse. The packed arena was a sea of orange. Fans wore masks of legendary coach Jim Boeheim.

The Orange forced 11 turnovers in the opening half and scored 13 points off them in running out to a double-digit lead before the midpoint of the period against Western Michigan, which was making its first NCAA tournament appearance in a decade. Syracuse used an 18-4 spurt over 10 minutes to take control and led 40-21 at halftime.

"We ran into a buzz saw today," WMU coach Steve Hawkins said.

Ennis is looking forward to facing Pierre, his former CIA Bounce teammate on Saturday.

"I think it' going to be a really good game," Ennis said. "They play hard, they're deep and I think Dyshawn is one of the best players they have, so going forward we have to key in on him and keep him off the boards as much as possible."

Ennis is a finalist for the Bob Cousy award as the best point guard in the country, and is one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award for the NCAA's top player, a list that includes Wiggins and Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas of Mississauga, Ont.

While plenty has been made of a potential Ennis-Wiggins battle in the Sweet 16 in Memphis, Ennis downplayed the possibility Thursday.

"I try not to think too far, anything could happen, there could be upsets. . .," he said. "It would be a great opportunity, and it'd be fun, but you can't think that far ahead."

Ennis averaged 12.7 points, 5.6 assists and 2.1 steals per game in the regular season, becoming the only freshman to ever lead the ACC in assists and steals. He was ninth in the NCAA in assist/turnover ratio.