Sunday evening, #10 seed Syracuse continued their trend of being a fantastic second half team in the NCAA Tournament. This time, they closed the Midwest Regional final with a 29-8 run on top-seeded Virginia, the of the best defensive teams in the nation, to pull out a 68-62 win and a berth in the Final Four.
The Cavaliers (29-8), who took a 15-point lead with 9:33 to play, closed the game by shooting 3-of-12 from the field and turning the ball over four times. Meanwhile, the Orange (23-13) needed under five minutes to make eight consecutive shots from the floor, including three treys, and four in a row from the free throw line to turn a 54-39 deficit into a 62-58 lead.
Even with that furious finish, SU had another rough day shooting the ball, as they made under 37 percent of their shots in the game. As they have of late, the Orange helped themselves at the free throw line, this time knocking down 20-of-25 from the stripe.
Syracuse also committed only eight turnovers, all of them coming in the first half, and forced Virginia into 13 mistakes, 11 of them steals. While their offense perked up after halftime, the SU defense also tightened up. After allowing the Cavs to shoot 48 percent from the field in the first half, the Orange limited them to 35.7 percent shooting after the break.
Syracuse got off to a strong start, opening the game with eight of the first ten points. Michael Gbinije got things going with a left-handed transition finish. Tyler Roberson then scored twice, dunking for one putback, then tapping home another SU miss. Frank Howard then made a steal and fed Gbinije, who knifed through the Virginia defense for another lay-in and an 8-2 lead.
Then, the Cavaliers woke up.
Virginia scored the game’s next ten points to grab a four-point lead. Roberson had a two-handed slam off another offensive rebound to stop that streak, but the Cavs piled on nine more points to take a 21-10 lead with under seven minutes left in the half.
Trevor Cooney banged in a 17-foot jumper to right the Orange ship, then Gbinije swiped an inbounds pass and went the length of the court for a lay-up to make it a seven-point game.
Virginia, though, responded by outscoring Syracuse by a 14-7 margin over the rest of the half, even with Tyler Lydon making a three-pointer after losing a shoe. That closing kick gave the Cavaliers a 35-21 lead at intermission.
After the Cavs scored quickly to push their lead to 16 points in the opening moments of the second half, SU responded with an 11-2 run.
Malachi Richardson and DaJuan Coleman each had a pair of free throws to start the Orange burst, then Cooney scored twice on lay-ups. The first was credited to Cooney after Virginia’s Mike Tobey accidentally tapped the ball in the hoop after it missed the mark and the second was off a slick reverse move. Lydon then rattled home a right side three to bring Syracuse within 39-32 less than five minutes into the second half.
The Cavaliers owned the next several minutes, though, strengthening their lead to 54-39 shortly after the midpoint of the session.
That, however, was when the SU offense turned into an unstoppable machine for five minutes.
Cooney drove and dished to Roberson for a two-handed slam, then got a soft lay-up to drop in off the high glass. Virginia got a deuce, but Richardson made both ends of a one-and-one, then coaxed a lay-up through the rim. Roberson added two more on his one-and-one opportunity, slicing the Cavalier lead to 56-49.
Virginia got a lay-in to slow down the Orange, but that was only temporary, as Syracuse ripped off the game’s next 15 points.
Richardson connected on a stepback three-pointer from straightaway, then Lydon swished one from the deep left wing. Gbinije corralled a long rebound, then raced to the other end for a lay-up to make it a 58-57 game. Richardson sliced through the Cavs for a lefty lay-up that put the Orange on top, then pulled up for a right wing three. After missing a lay-up on the following possession, the first SU miss in nine tries, Richardson rebounded, faked a slick pass, and put back his own miss to give the Orange a 64-58 lead.
The Cavaliers responded with a basket to break a drought of six minutes and change, then got two foul shots with 26 seconds on the clock to get within two points. Virginia then fouled immediately, sending Gbinije to the line for two shots. He sank the second, boosting SU to a 65-62 lead.
Virginia got a three-pointer off, but the shot missed and Lydon snared the rebound and was fouled with 9.2 seconds remaining. The freshman made both shots for a 67-62 lead. Coleman then grabbed another missed Virginia three and was fouled with 2.4 ticks left. He added the first foul shot for the final point of the game.
Malachi Richardson roared back from a slow start, pouring in 21 second half points, including 14 points in the final 8:23 of action, to finish with 23. Michael Gbiinje and Tyler Lydon each added 11 points for the Orange and Tyler Roberson added ten before fouling out.
London Perrantes paced the Cavaliers by hitting six three-pointers for 18 points. Malcolm Brogdon backed him with a dozen points. Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey each added ten points while Darius Thompson had nine.
Syracuse advances to face another ACC foe, North Carolina, in the Final Four on Saturday. The second national semifinal, TBS will televise the SU-UNC game with a listed 8:49pm Eastern tip time. The Tar Heels advanced to the Final Four by knocking off Notre Dame on Sunday night, 88-74.
The Orange were swept this season by UNC, starting with Jim Boeheim’s first game back after serving his nine-game suspension. That contest was an 84-73 loss at the Carrier Dome where the Heels shot almost 65 percent from the field in the second half to seize control of a game tied at halftime. The return game at North Carolina was a 75-70 Tar Heel victory in the next-to-last game of SU’s regular season.
Trevor Cooney scored 41 points across the two games for Syracuse, including 27 in the game at home. Michael Gbinije (13.5 pts/game) and Malachi Richardson (13.0 pts/game) each cracked double digits in both games. Isaiah Hicks (15.5 pts/game), Brice Johnson (15.0 pts/game), Joel Berry II (13.5 pts/game), and Justin Jackson (13.0 pts/game) all reached double figures in both games against the Orange.