For the third time in four years, Syracuse earned a place in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen, this time by using a second half explosion to put away Kansas State, 75-59, in Pittsburgh.
The East Region’s top seed, the Orange (33-2) scored 50 points in the second half, their greatest offensive output in any half of basketball in the last six weeks, as they pulled away from the 8-seed Wildcats (22-11).
SU was sizzling on offense in the second half, knocking down all five of the three-pointers they attempts as part of a 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) shooting display in the session. The Syracuse defense was strong throughout the contest, holding the Wildcats to 31.3 percent shooting from the field, including a dismal 23.5 percent effort in the first half.
As expected, the Orange had a difficult time hanging with Kansas State in rebounding, being beaten on the by a 41-32 margin and giving up 25 offensive rebounds. Even though SU won the battle of the boards in the second half, they still allowed the Wildcats to come down with ten offensive rebounds.
After Syracuse opened the game with a bucket, the tide immediately turned in Kansas State’s favor, as they hung the next nine points for a 9-2 lead with just over four minutes elapsed. Kris Joseph ignited the Orange offense, scoring six straight points to jumpstart a 21-3 run.
Dion Waiters was electric in the outburst, ripping off 11 points as part of 13 straight for SU. When the stretch ended, Syracuse held a 23-12 lead with just over eight minutes on the clock. The Wildcats awoke from their offensive slumber, having missed nine field goals and turned the ball over in that stretch, to hang nine consecutive points and slice the margin to 23-21.
The Orange got a basket to break their drought, but Kansas State knocked down three free throws late in the half to make it a 25-24 game in favor of SU at the break.
The Wildcats scored the opening basket of the second half to take the lead. Syracuse knotted the score, which they gave back to Kansas State twice before taking it for the remainder of the contest on a Scoop Jardine three-pointer with under two minutes gone. The Wildcats stayed in contact for a couple minutes, but the Orange rattled off nine unanswered points to take a 45-34 lead just over seven minutes into the half.
An 8-2 run by Kansas State whittled the margin down to five, but SU scored eight straight, capped by a pair of momentum swinging triples, to take their biggest lead to that point at 55-42 with nine minutes to play. A Wildcat basket stopped the bleeding, but only momentarily as Syracuse outscored them 8-3 in under two minutes to go up 63-47 with just over five minutes left.
Kansas State but into the lead, clipping it to ten points in the next two minutes, but that was as close as they would get. The Orange knocked down 8-of-10 free throws in just over two minutes as they pushed their lead out to 18 points in the final minute.
For the second straight outing, SU had four players register double figures in scoring. Dion Waiters paced the team with 18 points, 11 of those coming in just over eight minutes of action in the first half. Scoop Jardine posted a superb second half effort again, this time piling up 14 of his 16 points after the break.
Jardine also tallied a game-high eight assists. James Southerland had 15 points for the second straight outing, this time on an efficient 5-of-6 shooting effort, and blocked three shots, as well. Kris Joseph chipped in with 11 points. Rakeem Christmas provided the anchor down low for the Orange, finishing with eight points, a team-high 11 rebounds, and three blocked shots.
GAME AND TEAM NOTES:
- The victory is the 47th win in NCAA Tournament action for head coach Jim Boeheim, tying him for fifth all-time with John Wooden. Boeheim is two wins behind Connecticut coach, who is alone in fourth place with 49.
- Jim Boeheim was also named one of four finalists for the 2012 Naismith Award, which is given to the nation’s top coach.
- Syracuse got 33 points from their bench compared to zero for Kansas State.
- Shortly before the game, Kansas State announced that forward Jamar Samuels, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, was unable to play due to an eligibility issue.
- Syracuse will play #4 seed Wisconsin in the regional semifinal of the tournament on Thursday in Boston. The Badgers (26-9) advanced by getting past fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, 60-57. The two squads have split their two meetings and have not met since early in the 1999-2000 season, when the Orange defeated Wisconsin at the Carrier Dome, 68-49.