On Friday night, the Syracuse Orange inched out a close 63-60 win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs. In the waning moments of the affair, the Orange’s shot at an Elite Eight looked slim as the team was down one point with about 30 seconds left in the game. Despite Kyle Wiltjer’s block down low on the ensuing possession, Michael Gbinije’s offensive rebound and put-back ended up being the difference for the Orange. On the other end of the floor, Trevor Cooney made a sound defensive play, stealing a skip pass from Gonzaga to maintain the one-point lead. However, Cooney was ruled out of the bounds, and the Bulldogs had one more shot for the win. Ultimately, Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon sealed the victory with a remarkable defensive play in the middle.
Virginia, Syracuse, Notre Dame, North Carolina Move On To Elite 8: The Elite 8 starts on Saturday https://t.co/YpqYksV4H8 (NS)— 96.9 The Game (@969thegame) March 26, 2016
This run through March Madness, which now includes a trip to the Elite Eight, was unpredictable at best. Many thought that the Orange didn’t have a good enough resume to even make the tournament. However, Syracuse’s name was called on Selection Sunday, and the Orange have not looked back since.
Still, minus their miracle run through the tournament, Fox Sports explains that Syracuse deserved their spot in the tournament.
“Playing in arguably the toughest conference in basketball, Syracuse stayed afloat, which, in the ACC, is an accomplishment worth celebrating. Currently No. 29 in the KenPom rankings, Syracuse proved itself capable against North Carolina, Virginia, Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville and others throughout its tumultuous season.”
And now that Syracuse is here, the Orange have made a whole lot of noise.
After the game, Jim Boeheim talked with ABC News about how impressed he was with his team’s recent surge.
“I’m proud of this team. They played their hearts out. We’ve been the underdog every game and they fight their way through it. We’ll be the underdog again on Sunday but we’ll be ready.”
As usual, Syracuse’s zone created several much-needed stops to seal the victory. The Orange defense held Gonzaga to 43.6 percent shooting and only five free throw attempts on the evening. Other than Wiltjer and Sabonis, no other Bulldog reached double digits in the scoring column. Senior Eric McLellan, who averaged 10.9 points per game in the regular season, was especially quiet on the night. He finished 2-7 from the floor for only five points, and his lack of success was one of the main reasons Syracuse was able to survive.
Now, the Orange will face the Virginia Cavaliers on Sunday for a chance to appear in the Final Four. If Syracuse’s dream run continues past Sunday, the Orange will have to do a better job on the boards. In the contest versus Gonzaga, Syracuse was outrebounded by four. Domantas Sabonis led the charge for the Bulldogs, hauling in 17 rebounds of his own. Seven of those boards were offensive, and that could be a big problem in a matchup against the Cavaliers. Virginia, which defeated Iowa State on Friday night, outrebounded the Cyclones convincingly. The rebounding battle will certainly be one to watch, and Syracuse’s zone defense is always put to the test on the boards against strong interior teams.
10 Syracuse holds off 11 Gonzaga, 63-60, reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 2013. pic.twitter.com/SUQyi6l5QW— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 26, 2016
It is yet to be seen if Syracuse’s run can continue on to next weekend. However, even if the Orange’s run ends against Virginia, the surprising venture through March is exactly what college basketball is all about at this time of year.
What do you think? Will Syracuse’s run continue on past Virginia, or will the Cavaliers finally end the Orange’s unexpected tournament run?
[Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images]