Syracuse came into the tournament with losses to Pittsburgh, Louisville and Georgetown. The Orange heard from plenty of people that they're not as good as Kansas and maybe they shouldn't be a one-seed.
Well, all of these teams are home right now while Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. Furthermore, with their 87-65 decimation of 8-seed Gonzaga, the Orange reasserted themselves as one of the teams to beat, with or without Arinze Onuaku.
Wes Johnson poured in a career-high 31 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, leading Syracuse to an 87-65 victory over Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Johnson, the Big East Player of the Year, and [Andy] Rautins combined to make 9-of-15 three-point tries for Syracuse, which finished 12-of-25 from beyond the arc. The Orange again played without center Arinze Onuaku, who also sat out Friday's contest because of a quadriceps injury suffered during the Big East Tournament.
"When Wes and I are hitting our shots we're a tough team to beat," said Rautins.
Most impressive about the victory was not Wes Johnson's career day. Nor was it Andy Rautins' inability to miss from beyond the arc. It wasn't even the heady play of Scoop Jardine, who played like a point guard on a mission at times. Or Brandon Triche, who continues to turn it around.
The most impressive thing was the way Orange without Arinze...and Rick Jackson. Jackson got in foul trouble early in the game. With three fouls and the Orange only up one with 8:58 to play in the first half, Jackson left his teammates to fend for themselves. DaShonte Riley came up with the assumption that he would have to play the bulk of the half...and possibly the game. It seemed as though it would only be a matter of time before Gonzaga tore through the SU frontcourt and took control of the game. Instead, SU went on a 9-0 run and never looked back. After all the talk about how the Orange couldn't win without it's big men, they did exactly that.
With the win, Syracuse heads to Salt Lake City where they will play in their 19th Sweet Sixteen. The Orange also reached the 30-win mark for the fourth time ever and the first time since the 2002-03. You may have heard of that team.
The win reminded me of the way I saw this Syracuse team play earlier in the season. Back in November and December, this team would beat quality opponents at will. They seemed unstoppable and capable of going off on scoring runs at any given moment. The team has flashed since then but hasn't always resembled that squad. In the first two games of the NCAA Tournament, they certainly have.
How bout Wes Johnson though? How much did Wes need a "Wes Goddamn Johnson" game in order to remind the country how good he is? This is the Big East Player of the Year. Not Scottie "Sitting On His Couch In Philly" Reynolds. Wes is on the verge of truly making his reputation and his legacy at SU. Something tells me he's just getting started.
And of course, we have to recognize the hard work of DaShonte Riley. Riley once again came into the game and immediately made a mistake. And then he settled down. After that, he put together 15 extremely respectable minutes of work. He didn't put much on the stat sheet, but he didn't give Gonzaga much either. That's a win. (And that's not to mention that absolutely amazing pass he threw to Triche...Call him Magic Riley).
Butler awaits in the round of sixteen. We'll get to them in a little bit. In the meantime, savor the hell out of this Orange fans. We are who we thought we were...even if no one else did. They sure as hell know it now.
"This team has come to play every game. I've never had a team that's come to play every game." - Jim Boeheim
More links, recaps and videos below.
SU-Gonzaga Recap...Brent Axe
What they're saying about Syracuse's win over Gonzaga...Syracuse.com
SU displays blaze of offense in win over Gonzaga...Donna Ditota
Sweet victory: Syracuse overcomes foul problems to blow out Gonzaga...Mike Waters
Ticket information for Syracuse's Sweet 16 game...Syracuse.com
Brandon Triche puts in solid body of work in Buffalo...Donna Ditota
FEELING GOOD: Johnson returns to form, powers SU to Sweet 16 appearance...Daily Orange
Johnson's hand is OK in Syracuse's win over Gonzaga...Mike Waters
Johnson’s faith is rewarded...Yahoo! Sports
Syracuse Avoids the Kansas Curse...Fanhouse
Syracuse earns bragging rights on March Madness’ Canada Day...National Post
Syracuse aces audition for role of title favorite...CBSSports.com
Johnson is healthy and Syracuse again looks like a title contender...Stewart Mandel
|NCAA 2nd Round: SU-Gonzaga Players Post-Game Press Conference|
Gus Johnson before the SU-Zags game. He's fired up.