On Tuesday, Syracuse University announced that Fab Melo was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. On Thursday, the top-seeded Orange (32-2) certainly could have used Melo, as they needed a late second half rally and some questionable calls from the officiating crew to knock off #16-seed UNC-Asheville in the second round game of the East Region in Pittsburgh, 72-65.
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SU trailed the Bulldogs (24-10) by as many as seven points in the game before righting the ship and coming back for the win. In spite of having a tremendous size advantage over UNC-Asheville, the Orange put up 23 three-point shots compared to 33 field goal attempts from inside the arc. Syracuse connected on only five of their shots from deep, but were an efficient 60.6 percent from two-point range.
SU opened the scoring with a pair of baskets and a 4-0 lead with a minute off the clock, but Asheville replied with five of their own for their first lead. The Orange scored the next five points to regain a four-point margin, but five straight from the Bulldogs put them back up, 10-9. Syracuse went back up by three points, but five straight UNC-Asheville points gave them a 15-13 lead. After the Orange forced a couple ties, the Bulldogs went up by four points. Dion Waiters scored the next five points to retake the lead for SU at 22-21 with just under eight minutes left in the half. UNC-Asheville scored the next eight points of the game to take their largest lead of the day at 29-22. Syracuse responded with an 8-2 run to whittle the margin down to a single point, but the Bulldogs got a late three-pointer to take a 34-30 lead at intermission.
Like in the first half, the Orange posted the first points, getting a three to get within a point. UNC-Asheville pushed the lead out to a half dozen, but an 8-1 run capped by a pair of Scoop Jardine lay-ups put SU in front, 41-40, with less than five minutes off the clock. With the Bulldogs up by three a couple minutes later, Syracuse put together a 9-2 run to take a 52-48 lead just past the midpoint of the half. After UNC-Asheville knotted the score with under seven minutes to play, the Orange ripped off eight straight points to grab a 62-54 lead with 2:36 on the clock. The Bulldogs scored the next four points to get within four, but SU was sizzling from the charity stripe, making 8-of-9 free throws in the final 80 seconds to hold on for the win.
Four Syracuse players ended the game in double figures, led by James Southerland, who scored 15 points overall and 13 after the break. Southerland hit all three of his triples in the second half and collected a personal-best eight rebounds in the contest. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters each contributed a dozen points, Joseph tallying ten of his points in the first half and Waiters pouring in all 12 of his in the first half. Scoop Jardine added 11 points, all in the second half.
The Orange will face #8-seed Kansas State in third round action on Saturday. The Wildcats (22-10) advanced by knocking off ninth-seeded Southern Mississippi, 70-64, led by Rodney McGruder’s 30 points.