By Kevin Sweeney
For much of the night, nothing seemed to go right for Syracuse.
However, the Orange concluded the game on a 29-8 run over the final 9 and a half minutes to shock Virginia and earn a trip to the Final Four. Malachi Richardson led the way for the Orange with 23 points.
In the first half, the Virginia defense suffocated the Syracuse offense, holding them to just 21 points while shooting just 30.8% from the field. Richardson and Michael Gbinije especially struggled, shooting just 0-5 and 3-9, respectively. On the other side, Virginia shot 48%, with London Perrantes scoring 15 points on 5-7 from downtown. This led to a 14 point halftime deficit for the Orange.
Syracuse’s hopes continued to look bleak as the second half began. While the Orange showed signs of life, they struggled to truly chip into the Virginia lead. In fact, with 9:37 to go, Syracuse still trailed by 14 points. However, the Orange finally started to make their move, and Malachi Richardson started to take over. Despite being guarded by ACC Defensive Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the 6’6″ freshman knocked down a couple of big 3’s to trim the deficit and give the momentum back to Syracuse. The Orange were also able to slow down the Virginia offensive attack, utilizing full-court pressure that took the ball out of the hands of Perrantes and Brogdon. In just 4 minutes, the Orange went from dead in the water to leading, after a layup by Richardson gave Syracuse a 59-58 lead. The Orange kept the pressure on, extending their lead to 6 with under 2 minutes to play. Virginia had the ball down just 3 with under 30 seconds to go, but neither Brogdon nor Perrantes took the shot, with Devon Hall missing on a 3 and giving Syracuse the win.
For the Orange, its improbable tournament run continues. After having to sweat through Selection Sunday just to see if they would reach the NCAA Tournament, the Orange are now headed to Houston for the Final Four. Syracuse advances to take on the winner of North Carolina and Notre Dame.