Sunday’s Midwest Regional final was one of those games that define March Madness. Just when it looks like one team is cruising to the Final Four, the other makes a miraculous comeback.
The Syracuse Orange rode a 29-8 run over the final 9:33 to upset ACC foe Virginia, 68-62 in Chicago to steal the Final Four berth. The tenth-seeded Orange played a nearly flawless second half to overhaul the top-seeded Cavaliers and send them home wondering what happened.
Syracuse did not make a single turnover in the second half and made 11 steals throughout the game to overcome poor shooting. The Orange defense also helped them to victory despite hitting only 21 of 57 shots, good for 37 percent.
After an 8-2 start by Syracuse, the Cavaliers dominated the rest of the first half. Virginia closed with a 33-13 scoring run that sent them into the locker room with a 35-21 lead.
When London Perrantes drilled his sixth three-pointer of the game with 9:33 left, Virginia had a 54-39 lead. Things looked especially bleak for the Orange because under Coach Tony Bennett, Virginia is one of the top defensive teams in the country, who plays a methodical half-court offense. A comeback of that magnitude seemed highly unlikely.
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim has been around a long time, so he employed a full-court press to try and speed up the Cavaliers. It worked like a charm.
A couple of turnovers and some hurried shots on one end, followed by clutch baskets on the other end, saw the lead begin to dwindle. Malachi Richardson was everywhere, playing defense, stealing the ball and making shots.
His three-pointer with 7:15 left cut the lead to 58-52. On the other end, he stole the ball leading to another three-pointer by Tyler Lydon.
Syracuse kept pouring it on as Virginia began to wilt under the pressure. The Cavaliers went without a point for 5:51, which turned a 58-49 lead into a 64-58 deficit. The Orange made four of five free throws down the stretch to close out the game.
“I am so proud of these guys,” said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. “Virginia is a great team. They beat us three times in a row. They had a 15-point lead. (My players) just didn’t give up. They never gave up. I’ve never been prouder, in all of my 40 years, of a basketball team than I am of this team.”
Richardson led all scorers with 23 points. Lydon and Michael Gbinije (Bin-a-jay) both had 11.
Virginia was led by Perrantes, who was six for 10 on three point attempts, with 18. Malcolm Brogdon had 12, but was only two of 14 from the field.
Syracuse becomes the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four and the first 10 seed. Three 11 seeds made it: LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.
The Orange will play in their fifth Final Four. All but one of those appearances were under Boeheim. They were runners-up in 1987 and 1996, but cut down the nets in 2003.
Syracuse will play North Carolina in the national semi-finals on Saturday in Houston.