Syracuse’s final day of the regular season could have gone better. Much better.
For starters, the Orange held a seven-point lead in the waning seconds of the first half, gave a up a three before the buzzer, coughed up the rest of the lead almost as soon as the second half started, and spent the remainder of their game with Florida State in chase mode, but never getting the lead back. The Seminoles, who eventually pushed their lead out to ten points late in the game, held on for a 78-73 home win.
As has happened often in losses this season, SU (19-12, 9-9 ACC) was waxed on the glass. FSU (18-12, 8-10 ACC) owned a 43-26 rebounding advantage in the game, including dominating the Orange by a 28-13 margin after halftime. Syracuse was able to force 19 turnovers in the game, but committed 16 of their own, mostly wiping out any advantage gained from their defense.
It was a gruesome opening five minutes of play, as a DaJuan Coleman free throw for the Orange was the only score in the first five minutes while the teams combined to miss 13 field goal attempts and turn the ball over eight times.
When the two squads’ offenses got into gear, they alternated scores until the midpoint of the opening half, when consecutive markers by the ‘Noles pushed their lead out to 16-10. Two minutes later, FSU stretched their lead to seven points, but SU was then able to get going.
Syracuse posted a half dozen points in less than a minute, almost wiping out the Florida State lead. Trevor Cooney started the burst with a lay-up from the left side, then pushed a long rebound upcourt and found his backcourt mate, Michael Gbinije, who redirected the ball to Tyler Roberson for another lay-up. Gbinije then ran out with a loose ball and, when forced to regroup, found Malachi Richardson streaking down the key for a thunderous two-handed dunk off the bounce that cut the gap to 22-21 with less than six minutes left in the opening half.
The Seminoles stopped the run with a pair of foul shots, but Richardson buried a three from the left side to knot the game at 24 a side. FSU answered with a basket, but Cooney found a cutting Tyler Lydon on a baseline inbounds pass for a dunk, then Roberson added a free throw for a 27-26 Orange lead a minute later.
A jump shot put the ‘Noles back on top, but eight straight SU points gave them their biggest lead of the contest. First, Lydon fed Gbinije for a long three from the left wing, then Gbinije returned the favor, passing to Lydon for a stepback three on the right wing. Two trips later, Cooney drove for a lay-up, ending the burst with Syracuse in front, 35-28, with less than 20 seconds left in the half.
Florida State did not go quietly into halftime, though, getting a three just as the horn sounded to clip the Orange lead to 35-31 at the break.
The Seminoles also came out of the half scorching hot, as they connected on triples on their first three possessions out of the break, then added a pair of foul shots for an 11-3 run to start the session and grab a 42-38 lead.
FSU coach Leonard Hamilton was assessed a technical foul seconds later and Cooney made both foul shots. After the ‘Noles matched those free throws, Gbinije and Richardson each dunked on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 44.
Florida State answered with seven straight points to regain control. Shortly after, though, SU replied with a 9-2 run to wipe out the deficit.
Gbinije started the burst with a straightaway three-pointer, then Richardson laid the ball in for two more points. Coleman added a FSU foul shot, then Gbinije fed Cooney, who answered a jumper from the hosts with a three for a 55-55 tie shortly after the midpoint of the second half.
Undaunted, the Seminoles again went on a run, this time scoring 11 of the game’s next 13 points for a 66-57 lead. Lydon’s jump hook in that span was the only Syracuse score in nearly five minutes. Florida State would eventually add onto their lead, making it 71-61with 2:22 left on a free throw.
The Orange made one last push. Gbinije started it with a foul shot, then converted a Roberson steal into a lay-up to pull SU within seven. Lydon made a steal and was eventually fouled on an offensive rebound. His foul shots made it 71-66 in favor of the hosts. Richardson chased down a loose ball off a poor FSU inbound pass and was fouled. His two free throws got Syracuse within three.
Florida State then beat the Orange defense for a basket, but Lydon found Roberson inside for a bunny and SU trailed, 73-70. Once more, the Seminoles scored, but Gbinije answered with a quick three-point-play, bringing the margin down to two points.
Gbinije, however, fouled out on the next FSU possession, and one free throw made it a three-point game again. Cooney missed a long three-point try and the Seminoles converted the rebound into a lay-up for a 78-73 lead. Richardson’s late triple try also missed and FSU got the rebound, ending the game.
Excelling when his team needed him most, Michael Gbinije rang up 16 of his game-high 21 points after halftime and drained 8-of-13 field goals to reach that total. Tyler Lydon was also efficient, making 6-of-9 from the field en route to 16 points. Lydon came off the bench clicking, as he made all five of his shots, including a pair of treys, for a dozen first half points. Malachi Richardson added 15 points and Trevor Cooney had a dozen points, but shot 4-of-16 from the floor.
Malik Beasley paced Florida State with 20 points. Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes backed him with 16 points apiece. Terance Mann and Jarquez Smith aided the Seminole cause with eight points apiece.
While a win would have likely pushed them squarely into the NCAA Tournament field, SU instead heads into the ACC Tournament possibly needing a win against Pittsburgh to punch a ticket to the big dance. The Orange finished tenth in the conference, but with Louisville self-imposing a postseason ban on their basketball program (as Syracuse did last year), they are nudged up to the ninth-seed in the conference tourney and into a matchup with the Panthers, who are seeded eighth.
Pitt has been a thorn in Syracuse’s side this season, sweeping the series between the two teams. The Panthers used late runs in both matchups, getting a 10-0 run for most of the 72-61 margin at home, then hanging a 14-3 run at the Carrier Dome to key their 66-53 victory there.
In the two games, Pitt enjoyed a cumulative +38 rebounding advantage. Jamel Artis enjoyed two strong performances against the Orange, leading the Panthers in scoring in both games as he rolled up 39 points and pulled down 20 rebounds against SU this year.
Tyler Lydon averaged 13 points against Pittsburgh this season, accomplished mostly by scoring 21 points in the matchup at home. Michael Gbinije was the only SU player to reach double digits in both games, averaging a dozen points a game against the Panthers while averaging just over 18 points a game against the rest of Syracuse’s schedule.
The action starts at 12:00pm Eastern on Wednesday on ESPN with the winner playing again at noon Eastern on Thursday. The game will also be available online at espn3.com and through the ESPN app.