|Posted on March 18, 2018 at 5:20 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
Two years ago, the Syracuse Orange and Michigan State Spartans could have met in the Round of 32 but the then 2nd-seeded Spartans fell to the 15th-seeded Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee before that could happen.
Here in Detroit, Michigan, the opportunity did present itself for the now 11th-seeded Orange to take on the 3rd-seeded Spartans in the Round of 32 inside of the Midwest portion of the NCAA Division-I men's basketball tournament.
Michigan State opened the stat books first with two free throws from sophomore forward Nick Ward, followed by a three by sophomore guard Joshua Langford to get the Spartans out to an early 5-0 lead.
Syracuse true freshman forward Marek Dolezaj started attacking early, driving to the rim which did not fall and then taking a jumper that did, giving the Orange their first points of the game, down 5-2.
Fellow true freshman Oshae Brissett went to the rim and attacked for his own first two points of the game, getting Syracuse within one possession, 7-4, in the first four minutes of regulation.
A steal and lay-in by junior point guard Frank Howard would be followed by Dolezaj in the lane for two of his own to give the Orange their first lead of the contest, at 8-7.
Brissett went inside the arc and made his first jumper after missing two three-point attempts, stretching Syracuse out to a three-point lead, 10-7.
The Orange would allow three straight offensive rebounds in one trip down the floor for the Spartans, which eventually ended in a three-pointer by sophomore guard Cassius Winston to give lead back to the Spartans, at 12-10.
Howard attacked the basket inside nine minutes left in the half and made a tough shot off the glass with a hand in his face, and would make the following free throw to put the lead back in the hands of the Orange, 14-12.
Winston would bring the lead back to Michigan State with a three and then beat the shot clock with an assist to Ward for a dunk to give the Spartans a 17-14 advantage.
With 4:37 to play, junior center Paschal Chukwu had picked up his third foul of the game.
Howard brought the game back within three off of a jumper that answered sophomore guard/forward Mile Bridges' first field goal of the game, placing Syracuse behind 20-17 to Michigan State.
He would connect at the charity stripe shortly after to bring the Orange within one, at 20-19, and Brissett would make his first deep shot of the game, a three that would tie it at 22 apiece with about a minute before half.
Junior guard Matt McQuaid would get a chance before half and Moyer would block his try.
But then, in a strange turn of events, McQuaid caught the ball and pushed it toward the basket. It hit the backboard and rolled in and the Spartans, as a result, broke the tie and took a 25-22 lead into the locker room.
In total, there were five lead changes in the first half.
The Orange got out of the half down three on a miraculous shot, despite the Spartans doubling their rebounding output, with 24 to 12 by the Orange. Michigan State owned the offensive glass, with 11 offensive rebounds to Syracuse's one in the first half.
Winston opened up the second half with his third three-pointer of the game, and Brissett followed with making all three of his free throws after getting fouled beyond the arc.
Sophomore shooting guard Tyus Battle's first field goal of the game would come inside 18 minutes remaining in the second half, getting Syracuse within three, 30-27.
Howard and Battle would connect on baseline jumpers, with Battle being fouled as well and making the subsequent free throw to bring the Orange with three once again, 35-32.
But Bridges, who was held to just three points in 16 minutes of the first half, would answer with a make from beyond the arc to get the Spartans back out to a two-possession lead, at 38-32.
From there, Syracuse would get out to an 8-0 run, gaining on Michigan State, down 38-37.
As far as fouls go, the Orange, with 11:56 to play, had three players with three or more fouls, Chukwu with four, Dolezaj with three, and true freshman center Bourama Sidibe with three.
Ward would end the offensive run by the Orange, with a make at the rim, but Howard would reply with a tough make inside the arc at the other end, getting Syracuse back within one, at 40-39.
Inside nine minutes to play, Syracuse had four players with three fouls or more, Chukwu and Sidibe with four followed by Dolezaj and Howard with three.
Bridges would slam the ball so hard at the 7:28 mark that he would fall, but raise Michigan State to a 44-39 lead.
Coming out of the following break in the action, Battle connected on a jumper and his following free throw to get within two, 44-42.
Howard, however, would commit back-to-back fouls and just like that, with 6:39 to go, he had fouled out of the game. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, with two rebounds, one assist, one turnover, and one steal.
Battle got the Orange within three, 48-45, at the charity stripe with 5:26 to go and Brissett took the ball down the lane for a hard-fought two points to bring the game to 48-47 Spartans.
Dolezaj would fight hard underneath the Michigan State basket to gain a rebound and got fouled, making both free throws to give Syracuse a 49-48 lead, their first lead of the second half.
Freshman forward Xavier Tillman would make one of two at the line to bring the Spartans to down one, 50-49 close after.
Battle would come down and nail a jumper inside a minute to give the Orange a 52-49 lead with 45.4 seconds to play.
Brissett fouled McQuaid before Michigan State could attempt a three and McQuaid made both in his 1-and-1 situation, bringing the game to 52-51 Syracuse.
Then, Brissett threw the long ball to Battle who chased it down and got fouled with 6.1 seconds remaining. Hearing many in the crowd against him, Battle went 2-for-2, giving the Orange a 54-51 advantage,
Sophomore guard Braedon Bayer followed by fouling Winston before he could attempt a three, and Winston made both, bringing the game to 54-53 Orange with 3.7 seconds to go.
Syracuse just got the ball in before a five-second violation and Tillman fouled Chukwu, fouling out of the game and putting Chukwu on the line with 2.4 seconds on the game clock. Chukwu would go 1-fo-2 at the line to raise the Orange to a 55-53 advantage.
A last second heave by the Spartans would not fall as the Orange improve to 23-13 on the season and have gained their place in the Sweet 16.
Even more impressive is that Syracuse won this game having to play the last six minutes and change without their point guard.
Battle led the way for the Orange with 17, followed by Brissett with 15 and Howard with 13.
Winston led all Spartans' scorers with 15, followed by Bridges with 11 and Ward with 10.
But Syracuse did not deserve to even be in the NCAA tournament.
Isn't that what people were saying?
The pundits, the talking heads, the "gurus" of basketball.
Keep talking though.
The Orange seem to like that.
They just let it roll off their shoulders as they keep rolling in the tournament.
Syracuse will now face conference foe, the Duke Blue Devils, in the final 16 in a contest set for Omaha, Nebraska.