Tyus Battle drove, stepped back and finished. He had assumed point guard duties, Frank Howard fouling out minutes prior. The offense led by him didn’t produce much, but his final shot, plus two more free throws between intentional fouls was just enough.
The Syracuse Orange nearly had to dig into their non-scholarship players as four players reached four fouls but they forced 13 straight misses by the Spartans, completely locking up on defense and winning by some miracle in Detroit. They’re on to Duke in Nebraska, one of 16 teams remaining, with a 55-53 upset win over the Michigan State Spartans.
Over seven seconds remained when SU went ahead by three and Jim Boeheim decided to intentionally foul twice rather than let the Spartans shoot. His strategy killed five seconds off the clock, and with just over two left after Paschal Chukwu missed his second free throw Cassius Winston couldn’t get the ball over half court. He heaved a prayer, it hit the backboard and Cuse escaped by the grit of their teeth.
Michigan State converted rarely, from the field or the line in the first half. They dug away at Syracuse nonetheless, unloading a mass of three-point attempts, rotating bigs in to both snatch rebounds (21-11, 12-1 offensive rebound advantage at half) and tagging Syracuse’s big men with fouls.
Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe both picked up three personals before the buzzer, leaving Marek Dolezaj (with two) and Matthew Moyer on an island chasing shooters. In the final minutes Moyer rotated to the top to block Miles Bridges’ three attempt with 2:58 remaining.
At 2:57 later he’d do the same, seemingly capping a 22-22 half by swatting Matt McQuaid’s corner three. He landed behind McQuaid, but the ball landed back in the shooter’s hands. McQuaid let it fly again with 0.3 seconds to spare, and the second chance rattled in off the backboard.
Marek Dolezaj once again opened a scoring attack for the Orange that allowed it to have a chance to even get knocked back at the buzzer. He hit a long two near the top of the arc while his teammates started 0-of-4. Frank Howard and Tyus Battle both tipped pass attempts out of play early and took a 7-6 lead when Howard stole a pass to the top of the three-point line and ran for two.
The zone was active and devastating, but Michigan State created 12 extra chance shots. On one possession they grabbed three straight boards in the offensive end, two by Jaren Jackson Jr. That, with forcing two quick fouls in the paint on Chukwu, dug away at SU’s advantage even while MSU shot 19 percent from the field at one point, including an 0-for-7 drought.
Winston broke the Spartans out of their 2-of-13 groundwork, knocking down a corner three on the fourth chance shot. Michigan St. knocked down five threes and tossed 19 attempts in the first 20 minutes of the game, capped by McQuaid’s answered prayer.
A brutal sequence late in the half, Chukwu fouling Xavier Tillman to pick up his third, and Sidibe earning his on a bad screen moments later pulled Dolezaj and Moyer into action together. Still, SU trailed by only two. Joshua Langford worked fast, hitting a three, Frank Howard offset it with a floater and free throws, but Ben Carter opened the high post with a floating two over Dolezaj and McQuaid nailed his heave to answer a late corner make by Brissett.
MSU stood ahead 25-22, with a 9-0 advantage in second-chance points.
The threes kept flying in the first five minutes of the second. Winston drilled one, then Brissett matched with three at the line off Bridge’s foul. The latter knocked one of his own down minutes later, but Battle began to open up for Syracuse and keep them close. He hit a layup, shot and finished from 10 feet through a foul and Howard caught heat from Boeheim for not finding him more often through the first six minutes.
He would after a timeout, Battle added two points at the line but Chukwu contributed to the foul trouble. Next possession, he rose to catch a lob, got rejected by the rim on his way down and further insult occurred when he fouled on the way down, his fourth with 14:33 remaining.
Sidibe entered, the Orange still hanging around, as Brissett attacked the offensive boards and earned four free throws, including a trip off rebounding his own miss. He hit three, keeping the deficit at one.
Bridges soared into action and took advantage, along with the Spartan’s brigade of offensive rebounds. They pushed their total to 21 with 7:21 remaining, Bridges poured in a three and MSU tagged a foul on Sidibe, and two on Howard as they chased offensive boards. Meanwhile the Orange went on a 1-of-9 swoon, and Bridges ran in transition to smash a transition dunk to jump ahead 44-39.
Battle broke out of timeout on the attack, hitting a three-point play. Soon after, Howard picked up two fouls in rapid succession, the second picking up his man at half-court and knocking him out of the game. In came Braedon Bayer, his first minutes in weeks, with over 6:00 remaining in a NCAA Tournament game.
Syracuse somehow charged forward, setting up Sidibe inside for a free throw make, then Sidibe and Dolezaj successfully boxed out on two stops to go to the free throw line and tag three fouls on Jackson. Battle and Dolezaj flushed four straight at the line, and Sidibe split two of four to take a 50-48 lead.
On a 7-0 run, the Orange forced six straight misses. After forcing an seventh by Carter, Brissett ripped the ball from Jackson underneath, but traveled the other way.
MSU got within one, breaking away on a drive and Tillman missed inside after stopping Battle the other way, the ball bounced off Brissett’s hands, triggering a long replay as the ball. They confirmed the ball as the Spartan’s, but Langford missed a three and Battle responded with two on a jump shot.
The Orange got one more stop, but Battle twice lost the ball. Once in the press, Michigan State tied it up. Bayer tied the ball up inside with Langford, capping a string of 13 straight misses for MSU.
But Battle turned it over again, Syracuse couldn’t get the ball in and it tipped off his fingertips along the sideline. Boeheim went to the foul game up one, and MSU hit four straight.
Chukwu approached the free throw line, up one with 2.4 seconds left. He sunk one, missed the last. But the ricochet to the corner made it tougher for MSU to get going. A late prayer was way off. Syracuse took home the unlikely win and continue to troll America and the NCAA Tournament.