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Monday, March 28, 2016

Seeded 10th, Syracuse Is One of the Last Four Left

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Malachi Richardson shooting in the second half, when he took control of the game. He scored three straight baskets, the first on a drive that gave Syracuse its first lead of the second half, 59-58.CreditCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
CHICAGO — Shortly before Coach Jim Boeheim cut down the net to celebrate a most improbable victory, he grabbed a microphone and noted to the assembled fans that he had just witnessed the best comeback in Syracuse’s long, rich basketball history.
Boeheim could have been talking about his own comeback from a nine-game suspension earlier in the season, during which the Orange stumbled to a 4-5 mark, and went 0-4 to open their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.
He also could have been discussing Syracuse’s late-season swoon, when it lost five of its last six games before accepting a controversial No. 10 seed and a spot in the N.C.A.A. tournament, even with 13 losses.
But in a season in which Syracuse seemed to be left behind and labeled for elimination more than once, it crafted its best comeback of all, the one Boeheim was really talking about.
Trailing by 15 points with 9 minutes 32 seconds left in the game, Syracuse went on a blistering run to beat No. 1 Virginia, 68-62, in the Midwest Regional final at United Center and reach the Final Four for the fifth time under Boeheim. The Orange will play North Carolina in a national semifinal Saturday night in Houston.
“It’s the best comeback I’ve seen at Syracuse,” Boeheim said after the game. “I haven’t been there forever, but 56 years. It’s the best comeback we’ve ever had.”
Syracuse (23-13), which last made the Final Four in 2013, became the fourth double-digit seed to reach the Final Four and the first since 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth in 2011.
But it would not have happened if Malachi Richardson had not shaken off a miserable first half to lead Syracuse with 23 points, 21 of them in the second half on 6-for-11 shooting, including three 3-pointers.
Richardson, the 6-foot-6 freshman from Trenton, N.J., had missed all five of his shots in the first half and appeared passive. In one sequence, he angered Boeheim by passing up a makable shot and then soon after by absent-mindedly stepping on the end line.
Boeheim chewed out Richardson when he removed him from the game, using terms Richardson said were not suitable for publication. Then, when Syracuse came into the locker room at halftime, Boeheim lit into him again.
Syracuse, trailing by 16 after Virginia’s Anthony Gill dunked to open the second half, employed a press to force some important turnovers and change the pace of the game. It also shut down London Perrantes, who had scored 15 first-half points with five 3-pointers. But he scored only 3 points in the second half on 1 for 4 shooting.
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Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon (20) and DaJuan Coleman challenged Virginia’s Mike Tobey in the second half of the regional final. CreditNam Y. Huh/Associated Press
But the most important change for Syracuse was to get the offense going by taking the ball aggressively to the basket and then making some critical 3-pointers.
With Syracuse trailing, 56-43, with 8:32 to play, Richardson scored 14 of the Orange’s 21 points over the next five minutes. He hit a pair of free throws, then a couple of layups, scored on a putback of his own miss, added a steal and nailed three 3-pointers in a handful of possessions that gave Syracuse a 64-58 lead with 3:27 to play.
Tyler Lydon, a freshman who drained a 3-pointer in the first half after his shoe came off, also hit a clutch 3-pointer during that sequence, to draw Syracuse to within one possession, 58-55, with 6:50 to play.
By that time, Syracuse had yanked momentum into its favor, and it would never relinquish it as Virginia collapsed.
The Orange took the lead for good on a layup by Richardson that made it 59-58 with 5:50 to go, and then put the clamps on Virginia’s rattled offense.
With 1:49 to play, Gill moved forcefully inside to finally score for Virginia, ending a scoring drought that had lasted 5:43.
Syracuse led, 64-60, and time began to fritter away. With 26.9 seconds to play, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon hit a pair of free throws, and Syracuse’s lead was down to a basket, 64-62.
Syracuse came back up the floor and got the ball to Michael Gbinije, who was fouled with 25.2 seconds left. He hit one of two free throws. The score was 65-62, and Virginia still had a chance. But Devon Hall missed an open 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, and Lydon grabbed the last of his six rebounds. He was fouled and hit both of his free throws, essentially icing the game.
All that was left was to cut down the nets on another victory that nobody thought Syracuse could achieve.
And it was not even the first time that day that Syracuse had reached a Final Four.
The women’s team made it earlier Sunday by defeating Tennessee in the regional final in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Before the men’s tournament began, some critics said the Syracuse team had no business making it into the tournament at all, and then fortune was on its side when Michigan State, a top team on its side of the bracket, was upset.
But after it beat Virginia, a top-tier team trying to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1984, there was nothing left for critics to say.
“I thought we deserved to be in the tournament,” Boeheim said. “But certainly I wasn’t planning on getting to the Final Four. We tell the players, if you can win one game, you get another chance. They’ve done that.”
 
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