If you're a Syracuse Orange fan reading this post, here's a question: Has your heart-rate gone down yet? Mine hasn't, in case you were wondering. I'm still waiting for this wonderful reality to completely sink in. The best way for me to do so is to recount every aspect of those glorious four hours and 52 minutes in word form.
We as fans all knew this day was special, regardless of the outcomes of both games. For one, it marked the first-ever appearance in the Sweet 16 for the women. Subsequently, it was also the first time both teams had made it this far in the same season. Naturally, we all wanted to see both teams sweep their way into the Elite 8, despite the seemingly-daunting tasks of facing No. 3 South Carolina on the women's side and the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the men's. You could say we were wearing some pretty strongly-tinted orange glasses.
The clock struck 7:00 pm E.T. and it was time to settle into our seats and cheer for the women. I was feeling pretty comfortable early on. The team scored four points to open the game and maintained a slim lead through the first three minutes of the second quarter. Then, the Gamecocks started to get hot, particularly from behind the arc (looking at you, Tina Roy). Their lead ballooned to 13, but Syracuse chipped away. Junior guard Alexis Peterson hit a three with seconds left on the clock to pull the Orange to within 10. I praised Peterson for that shot. My dad and I agreed that it was so important to end the half that way because it showed resolve and resilience.
Once the second half began, I felt pretty darn good about our chances to not let South Carolina pull away for a blowout win. This Syracuse team is too talented and gritty to let that happen. Sure enough, the Orange continued to whittle the Gamecock's lead, ending the third quarter only down by six. Peterson hit a three with 6:11 left to go in the fourth to tie the game at 59-apiece. Senior guard Brianna Butler finally found her stroke and drained a trey to give her team the lead for good.
As time began to tick away, and Syracuse racked up the points, the reality began to settle in -- this team was about to knock off the No. 3 team in the nation. It was exactly the performance the Orange needed in order to keep the Gamecocks from their third-straight win over them. For the first time in school history, the ladies would get the chance to play for a spot in the Final Four. I squealed with excitement as I watched the team celebrate on the court. The adrenaline was pumping through my veins. I knew that they had had it in them because this team is special. I've had the pleasure of watching many of their televised/ESPN3 streamed games over the course of the season. When a team goes on an 11-game winning streak, including two victories in their conference tournament, it's not to be taken lightly.
Phase one of Orange Domination Day was complete.
The men's game started about 40 minutes after the women's game ended. We would barely have enough time for our hearts to settle down before tip-off. I was so nervous because I thought that this might be the game where the team would fall into a trap, digging themselves into a hole that they would be unable to get out of. The wait was excruciating.
The game tipped-off and began with some sloppy shooting on both ends. Then, the 'Zags settled in and looked like they couldn't be stopped. I could barely handle watching the atrocity unfolding in front of my eyes. We seemed to be missing every layup humanly possible and looked destined to be handed a blowout loss.
Somehow, though, Syracuse managed to keep the score within reach. They even had a chance to take the lead with the last shot of the half, but Franklin Howard decided to take it himself because he was feeling the hot stroke after already scoring five points. As soon as he released it, I thought to myself, "What the heck is he doing?" When it caromed off the rim and his teammates underneath the basket were unable to help him out, I just shook my head. Boeheim's audible "Goddamnit!" summed up my feelings perfectly. All things considered, though, our situation was much more favorable that I had thought it would be five minutes prior.
After pacing back and forth during halftime, it was time for the real nerves to set in. Gonzaga missed several shots and the Orange were finally able to take advantage of those mistakes. Once Syracuse's lead got up to five, I began to feel a lot better, but it didn't last long, as the Bulldogs went on a hot streak of their own to reclaim the lead. For the second time, they seemed to be unable to miss. Their star players doing exactly what we feared most: taking control. The Orange missed more easy shots and it started looking pretty grim. They eventually got it going again, but time was slipping away as Gonzaga kept making their baskets.
Then with only minutes left, Syracuse began to chip away at the 'Zags' lead. They got it down to one point, and "Cardiac Cuse" was in full-force. Those last two minutes were a blur. All I remember is that Michael Gbinije, Trevor Cooney, and Tyler Lydon blossomed came alive right before us. When Gbinije got the tip-in that gave the Orange the lead with under a minute to go, I jumped out of my seat.
There was still so much time left, as we learned from the UNI-Texas A&M game last weekend. Gonzaga had some pretty passes, trying to get an open look. In the blink of an eye, Cooney was holding the ball, but the referee called him out of bounds, giving the 'Zags another chance. They reviewed the play but even after the multiple camera angles showed us that he clearly had not stepped on the line, they still awarded the Bulldogs the ball with 15 seconds to go. I could barely handle myself.
Then, Tyler Lydon happened. After inbounding the ball, Gonzaga tried to pass it inside but Lydon blocked it and held on for dear life, drawing a foul with 1.9 left on the game clock. That block will probably be the second-most remembered in Syracuse history. He hit both free throws, sending the Orange faithful at the game into bedlam. Gonzaga failed to hit a half-court miracle and Syracuse was headed to the Elite 8.
Oh. My. Goodness.
One Elite 8 team was incredible, but two?! Insanity!
I think we can all agree that if someone told us before the season that we would witness TWO teams with a chance to advance to the Final Four, we would have signed up in a heartbeat.
The slipper fits.
The Syracuse softball team snapped No. 19 Notre Dame's 19-game winning streak over them in a historic victory at Skytop Stadium. What. A. Day.