Following the Syracuse Orange's 75-50 romp of Middle Tennessee, SU starting point guard Michael Gbinije was asked by CBS Sports Network reporter Dana Jacobson, "To everyone who doubted you, what does this mean?" His response was short, sweet, and straight to the point:
"Thanks for the motivation."
Gbinije – and Syracuse as a whole – certainly appears to be motivated so far. While several "experts" criticized the NCAA selection committee's decision to include the Orange in the tournament, Syracuse has made the most of its controversial entry, winning its first two games against Dayton and Middle Tennessee by an average of 22 points.
In Syracuse's second round win over the Blue Raiders, Gbinije once again led the charge. The fifth-year senior finished the night with a game-high 23 points, three assists, three steals, two rebounds and one block. The highlight of his performance came early in the second half. Less than seven minutes after the break, Syracuse led by just four points. Gbinije then hit a jumper. Then another. Then a three-pointer.
In just over two minutes, Syracuse's four-point lead increased to nine. Including Gbinije's quick seven-point scoring output, SU would close out the game on a 30-11 run.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after the game it was Gbinije's second-half scoring surge that led to Syracuse being able to stretch out its lead.
"The difference was when Mike got going, that was the difference. That was the only difference in the game," Boeheim said. "He made two tough turnarounds, nice touches. And then he made that corner three. And that was it right there."
Gbinije has made difficult shots throughout the course of the entire season. With a team that doesn't have a reliable second scoring option, in essence, it has been required of him. Gbinije's ability to rise to the occasion and consistently knock down clutch jump shots and play lock-down defense has resulted in him quietly producing one of greatest seasons by a Syracuse basketball player in recent memory–to go along with what has already been a productive career.
Gbinije was named to the All-ACC Second Team and All-ACC Defensive Team. He eclipsed 1,000 career points earlier this season. He is the only ACC player to score double digit points in every game this season. He is the core of this Syracuse team, leading the Orange in points, assists, and steals.
Prior to the start of the NCAA tournament, Boeheim explained what exactly Gbinije meant to this team while speaking at this year's Hardwell Club:
"He's one of the best players in the ACC. I don't care what anybody says. There is no player that affected his team as much as Mike Gbinije affected his team, no player in this league. No player has done the things that Mike has done for us. ... The reason we made it through this year was because of one guy. It takes a whole team but we made it through because of one guy."
And now, Gbinije has led Syracuse to the Sweet 16, something former first-round pick Tyler Ennis couldn't even do–despite leading a team that started the season 25-0.
The question now is: Will a Sweet 16 matchup versus Gonzaga be the ending to what has been a storied legendary Syracuse career, or will it just be another chapter in Michael Gbinije's continuing, refusing-to-die legacy?