With his team down 70-66 with 41 seconds left, Michael Gbinije took over the game.
Gbinije scored the final six points of the game, leading the Orange to an improbable 72-70 win on Tuesday evening over Virginia Tech. The last two points came on a spinning floater from the left block with .1 seconds left that sent his teammates – and a weary Carrier Dome crowd – into a frenzy.
It completed a furious 13-point rally in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game.
“That was one of the best experiences of my college career, my first college game winner,” Gbinije said. “Not gonna lie it felt good.”
Not only was Gbinije’s game-winner a thriller, but he sank two free throws right before to tie the game at 70.
That was probably the more improbable feat of Gbinije’s heroics. He had come into the game shooting 46 percent from the line and was two for six at that point. As a team, SU shot a combined 16-29 from the charity stripe.
Gbinije finished tied for a game-high 18 points with Trevor Cooney. Rakeem Christmas chipped in 15 points and 12 rebounds. But the Orange got little help from anyone outside its ‘Big Three,’ which clearly irked Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
“We are playing with three guys and that’s hard to do in college basketball,” Boeheim said. “By this stage in the year, Tyler [Roberson], Ronnie [Patterson] and Kaleb [Joseph] should be able to contribute. It’s very disappointing to come out in the second half and not do the things defensively that we are fully capable of doing.”
SU’s sloppy defense allowed the Hokies to hit three consecutive 3-pointers out of halftime to erase a 34-30 deficit. Virginia Tech didn’t look like a team that was 9-13 and 1-8 in the ACC for most of the second half.
But the Orange began a trapping full-court press, which induced six turnovers in the final four minutes.
That was the catalyst in SU’s win.
“This comeback ranks up there with any that I’ve ever been a part of,” Boeheim said.
And Gbinije was at the center of it.
“I wasn’t that nervous, I’m not trying to sound like a tough guy,” Gbinije said. “At the end of the day it’s just a game really, we just wanted to compete. Honestly it became more fun to accept the challenge and try taking it.”