PITTSBURGH — Down a man with Fab Melo’s ineligibility, Orange reserve forward James Southerland knew he was going to see some decent minutes off the bench to open up NCAA Tournament play Thursday against 16th seed UNC-Asheville.
But he probably didn’t expect to be a focal point for practically all of the final 17 minutes of the Orange’s nail-biting, warding off of the Bulldogs upset bid. The Orange won, 72-65, to advance and play Kansas State on Saturday in the NCAA round of 32 at Consol Energy Center.
After an inauspicious first half in which he scored a basket and had three rebounds, Southerland replaced a still-struggling C.J. Fair up front with Kris Joseph and the Rak Christmas/Baye Keita combo (and at times late in the game part of a rotation with a three guard lineup) three minutes into the second half.
He burned the Asheville defense by hitting a trio of 3s off great passes and great shooting rhythm on his part, and just as importantly pulled down eight boards total, six on the defensive glass.
“I really felt my teammates needed a lift,” Southerland said, still excited almost 45 minutes after the game. “I felt the need for a spark off the bench, and that spark came (early) in the second half.”
Not even a half minute after going back in, Scoop Jardine delivered one of those nice feeds and Southerland’s stroke was pure.
But the real dagger, not withstanding the controversial officiating that had both benches livid in the final minute, was the 3 he delivered waiting for a Dion Waiters pass in the corner with just under two and a half minutes to play that put the Cuse up eight.
“I was definitely feeling good, it helps getting some rebounds, playing tough defense,” he said. “Playing (strong) defense makes the offense a little better.”
No doubt Southerland will be needed Saturday to try and keep a quick Kansas State defense honest with his deft stoke.
He’ll likely have to keep it going on the boards as the Wildcats will rotate four big men in combinations against the SU front line.