With four minutes to go Boeheim’s Army only had hit one three. The crux of their offense had dissolved when Delroy James gave Team Fancy a 55-53 edge with their seventh make outside — an edge in the race to 60.
Syracuse’s group had awkwardly pressed bully ball for most of the night on offense to draw 14 free throws. But the most important ones came via the late finesse of John Gillon, who hit four straight in crunch time and opened the floor up for Demetris Nichols.
He splashed his second to get to 53, then had all the time he needed staring down 60 as his opportunity flew from Gillon inside to his wide open corner. Nichols delivered on 3-of-4 looks from three where nobody else could get one, and sent his team forward 60-55 in another tight victory.
Instead of the game in hand yesterday loosening up their offense, it clenched up. Its players jammed the ball into the paint, targeting their larger teammates Hakeem Warrick and Arinze Onuaku. Into the third quarter Onuaku led the team in attempts. Gillon followed his 32-point monsoon with two shots in over 20 minutes.
Onuaku hit his first and laid down an early block as the Syracuse Orange alumni followed on an 0-for-8 swoon in the first four minutes. The messy stretch ended tied at 4-4. James Southerland stuffed Ryan Pearson and Onuaku went back inside for a layup, but the bricks kept piling for Southerland and Nichols (1-for-4 inside).
The Army would get little more than a Gillon layup for the remainder of the opening quarter, trailing 15-10 while Team Fancy produced enough free throws to get by.
Flipping the lid off the rim, Onuaku and Nichols hit on drives to open up Gillon for a jumper on a 6-0 run. Eric Devendorf and Kris Joseph answered Fancy’s first pair of shots in the second to tie the game at 20, until Erving Walker broke the ice with a two halfway through the quarter.
Before halftime, Devendorf poured in two makes around Kyle Hunt’s dunk, setting up Warrick’s high-flying slam to tie the matchup at 26. He’d swish a pair of free throws and flush through one more dunk before half to bring Boeheim’s Army ahead 30-29 despite an absence of three-point shooting.
The score similarity to the night before was not reminiscent of the style from the tight shootout with the Kings. Delroy James and D’Angelo Harrison pressed inside — as scoring disappeared early in the third — to go ahead 33-30. Devendorf and Nichols scored to acquire another lead that was quickly lost after Mark Lyon’s three.
Walker hit another to extend Fancy’s lead to three while Boeheim’s Army dropped the power game by bringing back Gillon for a layup at the three minute mark to make it 40-39. He’d hit another to make himself 13-for-14 in the tournament with one minute remaining, enough to deflect James’ layup that pulled Fancy within one before the buzzer.
Southerland finally got on the board in the fourth on Gillon’s third assist, before a rush from Fancy put them back 50-46. Syracuse’s crew went big again with five minutes to go, Gillon led Warrick over the top for a transition jam and Onuaku caught another feed from him inside to make it 50-50.
Malcolm Grant got right back for Fancy to recover a loose ball on the offensive end and passed to Mike Poole for a jumper. Boeheim’s Army had hit only 1-of-12 from three when Warrick passed to Nichols for another try that splashed through for the fifth lead change of the final frame.
Then the 60 shined as the final target score with both teams five points away following a three by James and free throws from Gillon.
Gillon got to the line again, splashing both the way he ended the game last night. The next possession — after James got the space he needed in the corner he couldn’t convert his own three — Gillon pulled him and another defender in on the other end, leaving Nichols wide open.
He passed across his body with his left hand and Nichols shot himself out of his early slump and on to Atlanta. His corner three splashed through and Boeheim’s Army reached 60.
Gillon’s flurry of six assists late and Nichol’s trio of threes slid their team by Fancy for the second straight year.
Boeheim’s Army advances to the Sweet 16 to face Armored Athlete in Atlanta. They will play next Saturday at 1:00 pm on ESPN.