The Syracuse Orange made the NCAA Tournament, to the disbelief of many, likely due to Paschal Chukwu’s nervous heroics against Clemson. Now they’ve won a game, 60-56. And they’re on to face the TCU Horned Frogs in Detroit — again thanks to sweat-inducing moments Chukwu converted in.
Shannon Evans III created all the space in the world, with the Arizona State Sun Devils trailing 58-56 in the corner. He waited a second, creating more space with an up-fake, let the shot fly with five seconds left and it hit the back of the rim. Out of a scramble, which would best describe the final two minutes of the game, Frank Howard emerged with the rebound.
As the clock expired after Howard hit both free throws, Jim Boeheim got on him for not missing one and securing the clock’s run-off (or potentially show-boating? Not sure). But the Orange won, 60-56, coming back from a six-point deficit the Sun Devils built on top of them in the first 90 seconds of the second half with an 8-0 run, as well as a late seven-point deficit of 49-42.
“We took the timeout down seven,” Boeheim said. “I thought we had our best possessions all year.”
That possession created a two for Howard, and Chukwu followed his missed three off an Arizona St. turnover by grabbing one of 10 offensive rebounds for the Orange. Oshae Brisett got behind his defender and converted one of his two free throws after Chukwu tossed the ball from the high post to him. SU was on its way back, Chukwu making up for lost time.
The Sun Devils struggled all day to make quick decisions against the zone and entered a three-minute scoring drought. They successfully stopped Tyus Battle driving inside, earlier drawing three offensive fouls on his charges to the net, but this time he tossed the ball up toward the rim and Chukwu followed it with a two-handed flush.
Lob or miss, it counted for two points and pulled the Orange close at 49-47.
ASU would only score nine points over the final 4:49, two key turnovers feeding the 8-0 run back by Syracuse. Brissett caught a pass and finished inside through contact again to tie the game, then took the lead at 50-49.
In the first half, Brissett fell on his back on a fall several feet out of the air. He stayed down for several minutes, all the way through the TV timeout, but stayed in the game and ultimately scored 23 points with 12 rebounds.
Arizona St. would struggle all night to make quick decisions against the zone, piling up fouls on Syracuse’s main rotation players but only 40.4 percent with 56 points. They missed seven of their 10 free throw attempts. But Kodi Justice scored 15 points, cutting on the back line, working into the high post to catch feeds on drives and he buried a key three on the left wing from Mickey Mitchell and regained the advantage.
Brissett and Tra Holder traded misses, but with under three minutes remaining the former tied it hesitating in the high post, then he threw up a jumper as the defenders swarming him let up. It fell.
At 52-52, Tyus Battle lined up his man on the left wing, crossed over twice, stepped into his shot and drilled a three, initially called a two and reversed, unlike his long two in the first half.
Syracuse’s fate turned to its defense and it held on out of timeout. Justice and Evans missed three-pointers and ASU rebounded the ball both times, then tagged Howard with a foul.
Evans missed another three, Chukwu picked up a third foul, and sent Romello White to the line where he missed a one-and-one. This time Chukwu secured the rebound and got fouled by Holder, drawing him to the free throw line.
In the ensuing scramble, Howard almost stole the ball at the top of the arc from Holder. He recovered, dumped the ball into the high post as the defense scrambled, and Mitchell slipped through Chukwu into the low post and scored. With the five seconds ticking and Boeheim yelling, Brissett threw the ball in-bounds to Chukwu.
Earlier in the half Syracuse had two chances to score in a possession that involved Chukwu missing a pass thrown to him under the rim, then traveling as he landed with an offensive rebound. After the crucial missed free throw, up 57-56 at the line, he split a pair.
Down two, Holder hit the hole, the zone collapsed as it did on ASU’s run early in the half and Evans couldn’t have received a better look in the corner. A stroke of fortune sent the shot off line, and Syracuse into the second-round.
SU missed 10 free throws, all five starters picked up three fouls and the defense faltered on the most important possession of the game. But Cuse, still alive, escaped on the overall body of work its defense created. ASU appeared uncomfortable and uncertain in its movements, especially in the first half where they tried both corners on one possession before Howard tipped a pass to the top away and ran for two.
Boeheim praised his play, as he was suffering from strep throat, which isn’t great news for his teammates he shared the ball with. Or the referees for that matter.
The story of this wacky season isn’t over yet.
“It’ll be tough to come back Friday night. These guys expend every bit of energy when we play,” Boeheim said. “This team has given everything they have.’’