After a devastating blow earlier in the week, and a nail-biter two days ago, Syracuse survived Kansas State 75-59 to move into the Sweet 16. We’ve talked about heart and resiliency with this club all season long, but following a disastrous effort against UNC Asheville, few had much confidence the Orange would last much longer in the Big Dance.
Instead, SU took Kansas State’s best shot and withstood it. The Wildcats are a gritty Big 12 bowling ball, a team unafraid of banging and getting dirty. Many worried about that matchup with a finesse SU team, but the Orange answered. Dion led all Orange players with 18 points, and Scoop chipped in a huge 16. While Jim Boeheim’s coaching techniques on Thursday could be picked apart, he did not lose this team when Fab was ruled academically ineligible. Just like the rest of the season, The Per’fesser and co. found a way to survive. SU actually played much better than Thursday, and not just as evidenced by the scoreboard. The Orange looked more engaged, focused and energized than the sleep-walk that was the UNC-A game.
In an opening weekend where not one, but two #2 seeds exited in shocking fashion, at the very least SU has given itself another Sweet 16 opportunity. Maybe this will be redemption for the loss to Butler two years ago, an SU squad seemingly poised for the Final Four before A.O. went down. The Boston crowd will be heavily pro-Orange, and karmically it sets up well that SU went through Beantown back in ’03 (en route to New Orleans as well). Exhale Orange Nation, SU lives to see another day.
Rakeem Christmas also looked solid in the middle of that zone. He ripped timely rebounds, was able to finish in transition, and seemed to grow up before our very eyes. Wisconsin is going to test him in the middle. A classic B1G grinder, the Badgers will try to slow the action and force Rak to make plays on the interior. We now have encouraging signs R-Xmas can handle that.
As Scoop said: “We won. We won the game. It don’t matter. It don’t matter if we played good or bad. We won and advanced. That’s what this tournament’s about.”