Midnight came. Georgetown still sucked. But Syracuse’s improbable run in the NCAA Tournament did not end. SU topped Michigan State 55-53 in the second round.
It wasn’t pretty. Just check every national writer’s Twitter account. But that’s 2017-18 Syracuse basketball for you. But that’s just how they like it. Tyus Battle hit a huge jumper with 45 seconds, coupled with a pair of big free throws down the stretch.
It was the same song and dance Syracuse has become accustomed to this entire season. Stellar defense, but not the offense to keep up with high-powered Spartans. But all of that didn’t matter. SU locked down MSU down the stretch, going 0-for-13 down the final stretch.
SU locked down Miles Bridges, holding him to just six first half points. But the NBA-bound sophomore found a groove in the second half for State, including a thunderous dunk that felt like the dagger with just over seven minutes left in the game.
Foul trouble almost doomed the rail-thin SU roster. With imposing big men alongside Bridges in Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward down low, Paschal Chukwu, Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj all picked up early whistles against them. Frank Howard fouled out with about six minutes left in the game and Jim Boeheim’s hand was forced to play Braedon Bayer. From there, the SU interior defense looked tentative inside.
But the Orange chose gritty over pretty. And who better to give that effort than the former walk-on Bayer. The Division III transfer came up with a huge block on the future lottery pick Bridges and also had a big tie up to force a jump ball. You can’t make this stuff up.
This run may have seemed like gravy on top of an unlikely bid into the Big Dance, but it was certainly more than that for these players. And it’s not quite done yet. Syracuse faces Duke in Omaha in an all-ACC Sweet 16 matchup.