By the time you read this, we should have a pretty good idea of whether the Syracuse University men’s basketball team’s upset of No. 18 Clemson March 3 saved the Orange’s season or merely delayed the inevitable.
By outlasting the Tigers 55-52 before a college basketball season-high crowd of 28,670 at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse notched its first win of the season in seven games against an Associated Press Top-25 team. The Tigers were also No. 10 in the Rating Percentage Index, one of the key measurements used by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
The Orange needed that win desperately because it entered the game on the outside of most NCAA Tournament bracket projections. But if No. 11 seed Syracuse (19-12 overall, 8-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) lost to No. 14 seed Wake Forest (11-19, 4-14) on Tuesday, March 6, in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the Clemson win likely won’t matter and the Orange will be looking at a second consecutive appearance in the National Invitation Tournament that starts Tuesday, March 13. (The Syracuse New Times was printed on Tuesday before the Syracuse-Wake Forest game.)
But if Syracuse defeated Wake Forest (the teams split their two games during the regular season), the Orange will have one more chance to grab the Selection Committee’s attention. Syracuse will face defending national champion North Carolina (22-9, 11-7) — the No. 6 seed in the ACC Tournament but ranked No. 12 in the nation — on Wednesday, March 7, 9 p.m., in the second round of the tournament at the Barclays Center.
With a win over North Carolina, the Orange would have 21 wins, including two over top-25 teams, two impressive road wins (Miami and Louisville) and no really bad losses like the ones last season that kept the Orange out of the NCAA Tournament. On Feb. 21 at the Dome, Syracuse rallied to tie North Carolina 74-74 with 3 minutes remaining before making several mistakes down the stretch and losing 78-74.
If Syracuse beats North Carolina, the Orange would face No. 3 seed Miami (22-8, 11-7) on Thursday, March 8, 9 p.m.
Against Clemson, Syracuse’s defense won the game as the Orange failed to score a field goal in the final 8:45 but made enough defensive stops and enough free throws to hold off the Tigers.
“This is what we want to do every game,” Syracuse point guard Frank Howard said. “Our defense will keep us in it. Our offense isn’t going smooth, and we’ll try to play well down the stretch to win the game.”
Following the Clemson game, Orange coach Jim Boeheim made a case for the Orange to be included in the NCAA Tournament’s field of 68.
“It’s up to the committee, it’s a tough call, there’s a lot of teams that are close,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got some good wins, and we have no bad losses and we’ve won on the road in tough places, but we’ll see what happens.”
Whatever does happen, it’s important to note that it’s somewhat remarkable that the Orange is even in the tournament conversation following the departures of Tyler Lydon (NBA), Taurean Thompson (Seton Hall) and fifth-year transfer Geno Thorpe (left the team), and serious injuries to Matthew Moyer, Bourama Sidibe and Howard Washington (a season-ending knee injury).
Syracuse has played much of this season with six players, and they’re basically playing 3-on-5 on offense as Moyer, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu have struggled on the offensive end.
In Brooklyn, the Orange will go as far as Tyus Battle (20.0 points per game before Tuesday), Howard (15.2) and Oshae Brissett (14.7) can take them.
“This team, I will not think they should have done something more,” Boeheim said. “If anything, I would say they could have done something less than what they did. So we’ll get ready, we’ll go to New York, and we’ll try to play as best we can in New York.”
Battle Reaches 1,000, Moten Honored
After a slow first half, Battle caught fire in the second half against Clemson to finish with a team-high 17 points. His 11th point early in the second half on a jumper gave him 1,000 for his career and enabled him to join Gerry McNamara, Billy Owens, Lawrence Moten and Jonny Flynn as the only players in SU history to reach 1,000 points in their sophomore years.
“I didn’t even think about it or anything like that,” Battle said. “I didn’t score 1,000 points until my senior year in high school, so to get it here in my sophomore year is really special.”
At halftime of the Clemson game, Syracuse retired Moten’s jersey No. 21. “Poetry In Moten,” who played for the Orange from 1991 to 1995, remains Syracuse’s and the Big East Conference’s all-time leading scorer with 2,334 points.
Moten joined 13 others who have had their jersey retired and hung from the Dome’s rafters.
“I still remember walking into the locker room for the ACC/Big East Challenge game against Florida State and seeing my name on the board as a starter,” Moten said. “I left the locker room, found a pay phone and called my mom to tell her I made the starting five for the first time. After she screamed in my ear, she said, ‘Baby, don’t lose that spot!’ To now have my jersey retired is truly a blessing.”
Orange Women Await Fate
The Syracuse women’s basketball team was ousted in the second round of the ACC Tournament by Virginia Tech March 1 and will now have to wait until the Selection Show on Monday, March 12, to see if it will be invited to the NCAA Tournament.
The Orange (22-8), which entered the game with a five-game winning streak, led 55-39 midway through the third quarter. But the Hokies outscored Syracuse 29-5 in the fourth quarter as the Orange shot 0-for-16 from the field in the 85-70 loss.
Michael Davis Photos: