Syracuse guard Buddy Boeheim appeared to be picking up right where he left off.
With just over a minute gone in the first half of No. 11 Syracuse’s second round NCAA Tournament matchup against No. 6 West Virginia, Boeheim came off a screen from the top of the key and buried his first attempt, a 3-pointer for the game’s first points.
This was coming off of his dominant performance in the NCAA First Round against San Diego State, where Boeheim torched the Aztecs for 30 points. But, as it turns out, those were the only points of the first half for Boeheim, and after the Orange had led by as many as 14 points, went into intermission up only six.
During halftime, Syracuse assistant coach Gerry McNamara pulled Boeheim aside, telling his budding superstar not to lose confidence.
“Keep going,” McNamara said to Boeheim. “I don’t care if you miss 200. Just keep shooting.”
Boeheim kept shooting, and in the second half, the shots finally started to fall, as Boeheim led the Orange to a 75-72 win, and a spot in the Sweet 16 against second-seeded Houston on Saturday at 9:55 p.m.
His first came with 18:14 to go to put SU up 43-31, which was the impetus that Boeheim needed.
When West Virginia found its rhythm, so did Boeheim. After the Mountaineers pulled to within 46-44 with 12:20 left, Boeheim went to work. It started with a 3-pointer to stem WVA’s momentum, putting the Orange back up five.
On the ensuing possession, Joe Girard spotted Boeheim open from the painted logo near midcourt. Boeheim was standing 30 feet away, but he may as well have been open for a layup. Boeheim launched without hesitation, and ripped the net again.
As he jogged back, Boeheim was seen mouthing the words “I’m a bucket.”
“Credit to my teammates for getting me going,” Boeheim said. “They always believe in me. There’s no better feeling than having teammates and coaches that believe in you.”
While West Virginia pulled to within four, and then within two with under a minute to go, Boeheim would not let Syracuse lose. He calmly sank two free throws with 21 seconds left to put Syracuse back up 74-68.
When Syracuse’s lead had shrunk to two, Boeheim corralled a football pass from Dolezaj on a critical inbound like a wide receiver snagging a fade route to avoid a costly turnover, and added a free throw to close out the Mountaineers.
It was all part of another brilliant performance, as his 22 second half points left Boeheim with 25. It’s contributed to a torrid run for Boeheim recently, as he’s averaged 26.0 points over his last six games.
“Buddy missed the open shots he’s been making the last few weeks,” his father, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “Everybody kept looking for him, and he knocked some huge shots down when they had us in a lot of trouble.”
And yet, Syracuse found its way out of that trouble, and is currently one of only two ACC teams (the other being FSU, who plays Monday night) still left playing.
SU will be playing as long as Boeheim continues with his clutch play.
“(This is) something I’ve dreamed about my whole life,” Boeheim said. “It’s just amazing to be part of this team and how fun these moments are.”