FINAL FOUR BOUND: Syracuse pulls off massive comeback in 68-62 win over No. 1 seed Virginia

first_img Published on March 27, 2016 at 8:21 pm Contact Sam: sblum@syr.edu | @SamBlum3 Facebook Twitter Google+ CHICAGO — Adrian Autry was trying to forget everything he knew about Virginia as he sat helpless on the Syracuse bench. The assistant coach had scouted the Cavaliers for this game. He’d scouted them for the game in January and in other games in past years.Syracuse was down by 16 to a team that didn’t give away leads, a team that controlled tempo and shut down offenses with a purpose.There was a certain hopelessness as he and everyone else on the Orange bench watched London Perrantes hit his sixth three pointer and pound three fingers against his temple, staring down a Virginia bench that stood in applause. There was hopelessness as Mike Tobey, a backup center, found an open dunk to end a 7-4 Orange spurt and bring the lead back to 11.“They always somehow compose themselves and boom, bounce the lead back out,” Autry said. “So I’m just sitting there, just kind of cheering the guys. Not trying to think about what I’ve seen over the years.”It was a lead to end this Syracuse season. Its run to the Elite Eight was improbable, but far from magical. A better team stood in its way, and was about to end any hope at history. And that’s when the magic happened. That’s when a 15-0 run, spurred by 21 second-half points from Malachi Richardson, turned improbable into historical. A 68-62 Syracuse (23-13, 9-9 Atlantic Coast) win over Virginia (29-8), that puts it in the Final Four next week in Houston, where it will play No. 1 seed North Carolina.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIt was a run that included a boastful “They can’t f*cking guard me” from Richardson in front of the Syracuse fan section. It included a pull-up 3 in the face of Malcolm Brogdon, the best perimeter defender in the ACC. When it was over, Syracuse had a six-point lead. It had a clear path to the Final Four, its first in three years, but the most unlikely of Jim Boeheim’s six trips.“Coach came in and barked at me a little bit at halftime. I just had to pick it up,” Richardson said. “Once I got going, I was hot. And I was going.”It took the Orange nearly 14 minutes to get a basket on the first attempt of a possession. Its offense was almost solely on the offensive putbacks of Tyler Roberson. There were certain sparks, like Tyler Lydon connecting on a 3 with one of his shoes thrown off to the sideline, or an 11-2 run to start the second half. But those moments, the Cavaliers found answers to.Usually it was in the form of a Perrantes 3-pointer. Syracuse had game-planned for him, but UVA was picking apart the zone and it left him wide open atop the key.The run, not the spurt that Syracuse had continued to threaten with, didn’t ever seem like it was on the verge of happening. And then it happened with a force.“It was a great comeback, one of the best I’ve coached in, any team I’ve had,” Boeheim said. “Virginia has beaten us by 15 points three straight times. And they were up by 15 today. They’re a hard team to come back against, and these guys just made some unbelievable plays. They deserved to win.”Richardson said he started feeling it when he got to the basket and got fouled with 8:23 left. That cut a 13-point lead down to 11. Then he got to the basket again and got it to nine on the next possession. He pulled up from the left wing and pushed the Orange’s deficit from nine to six. He was using the isolation offense to get to the rim, and he did it all alone when he put Syracuse ahead by one – inciting bedlam from the partisan SU crowd.His pull-up 3 over Brogdon made it four. Then his offensive rebound and putback made the lead six. No one could defend him. When he scored only two points in the first half, it wasn’t out of the ordinary. He’s been bad this year in that way, he gets in his own way. But when it clicked, he was unstoppable.During the Syracuse shoot-around on Saturday afternoon, Richardson got the chance to meet NBA shooting legend Reggie Miller, who was broadcasting the game for TBS. Assistant coach Mike Hopkins asked Miller if he had any advice for the freshman, who in turn told him that as a shooter, he needed to have a short memory. He couldn’t hold on to the ones he missed. And on Sunday, when things weren’t going well, he thought of that moment.Trevor Cooney never found his 3-point stroke. Michael Gbinije had just 11 points. Everyone else combined for just 26. The offense came from Richardson when there was no one else willing or able to step up.“Malachi’s been awesome, man,” Cooney said. “He took this second half over. I just told him, keep being aggressive. You’re gonna get those foul calls. The ball’s gonna go in for you.”The celebration on the court was wild and all over the place. A blur to everyone who was asked about it. Cooney was hounded by reporters on the court, sweat still dripping from his head as he caught his breath. Dajuan Coleman boasted that his powerful and frustrated slap of his towel on the hardwood when the team went down by 14 was the sign of life, the beginning of a comeback.The walk-ons took selfies with each other. Former Syracuse players Rakeem Christmas, Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair watched the celebration from afar on the other side of the court. Director of athletics Mark Coyle waited patiently for his turn to climb the ladder and cut down part of the net.There was the coach that has been through it all, with a hoarse voice and a Final Four hat atop his head, and he thanked all the Syracuse fans. He was suspended nine games and no one’s stopped asking him to talk about it since. He got in Richardson’s ear when Syracuse needed him to step up. Most importantly, he kept the Orange from giving up.When he walked into the locker room, all the hoopla had died down. The walk-ons affectionately started yelling “GOAT” at him, a reference to the “greatest of all time”. He picked up some chicken fingers that were being given out to the team. He looked at his cell phone, walked to the corner of the locker room, sat down, crossed his legs and let out a loud sigh.His team, against all odds, had found a way. And it still isn’t over.“I mean, I thought we deserved to be in the Tournament,” the 40-year SU head coach said. “But I certainly didn’t — I wasn’t planning on getting to the Final Four.” Commentslast_img read more