Saturday evening, one of the best seasons in the history of Syracuse basketball came to an end as the Orange were eliminated in the East Regional Final by Ohio State, 77-70. The top-seeded Orange (34-3) fell behind early in the second half and could not regain the lead against the #2-seed Buckeyes (31-7). As has often been a problem on the season, SU got worked over on the boards, being outrebounded 39-26.
One factor that had not been a problem for Syracuse on the season was the officials’ whistles. The Orange came into the game averaging 15.1 fouls on the season, but were called for 29 fouls in the game, as well as head coach Jim Boeheim’s only technical foul of the season.
While SU did commit seven fouls in the waning seconds to assist their comeback effort, they were otherwise flagged at a rate far greater than normal. As a result, the Buckeyes attempted 42 free throws in the game compared to 25 for the Orange. To sum up the frequency of the whistles, both teams were in the foul bonus with over 12 minutes remaining in the second half.
The opening minutes of the game were in favor of Ohio State, who jumped out to a 9-2 lead before the game was four minutes old. Scoop Jardine made a one-man effort to erase the lead, knocking down a pair of three-pointers to get Syracuse within a point. The Buckeyes replied with a pair of baskets to go up by a 13-8 lead. The Orange whittled away at the deficit and eventually used a burst of five straight points to take their first lead of the night at 23-21 with under nine minutes left in the half.
A pair of Buckeye free throws knotted the score, then with 6:28 on the clock, Brandon Triche was called for a charge, wiping out a basket. Coach Jim Boeheim vehemently argued the call and was assessed a technical foul. Instead of the Orange taking a two- or three-point lead, had the foul been called on the defender, the Buckeyes made one of their free throws to go up by a point. SU got the next basket to go up by a point, but Ohio State quickly retook the lead. Syracuse continued fighting and tied the score three times before the final horn, including at 29-29 at halftime.
A pair of free throws early in the second half gave SU the lead, but Ohio State quickly erased that advantage. Shortly after that, the Buckeyes took off on a 13-3 run to take a 46-36 lead just over six minutes into the half. The Orange quickly struck back, posting the next six points to get within four. Ohio State nudged the lead out to a half dozen on a couple occasions, but SU clawed back with five consecutive points, nipping the deficit to 52-51 with under eight minutes left.
A Buckeye three-pointer stretched the lead out to four, but the Orange replied in kind to get back within a single point. Ohio State rose to the challenge, scoring seven of the game’s next eight points to take a 62-55 lead with 3:15 on the clock. SU got within four points, but an Ohio State basket followed by a Syracuse turnover forced the Orange to start fouling with 1:08 left. The Buckeyes were more than happy to take advantage of that strategy, connecting on 13-of-14 free throws during the remainder of the game to maintain at least a three-point lead until the final horn.
Brandon Triche led three SU players who cracked double figures in scoring with 15 points, piling up all his points in the second half. Scoop Jardine closed his career at Syracuse with 14 points, including three triples, and a game-high six assists while Kris Joseph ended his time with the Orange with ten points and a game-high three steals. Dion Waiters added nine points and C.J. Fair chipped in with eight. Baye Keita was a defensive force off the bench, posting game highs with ten rebounds and four blocked shots.
GAME AND TEAM NOTES: