Ed. note - This recap is the second installment as part of our Syracuse basketball rewatch series. Today’s recap features Syracuse’s 1996 Final Four win over Mississippi State. If you missed the introduction to this series, click here for more information. We recapped Syracuse’s 2004 win over BYU and talked about it in further detail here.
East Rutherford, N.J. — The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team advanced past the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the National Semifinal by a final score of 77-69. Jim Boeheim’s team will play the winner of UMass-Kentucky for the National Championship on Monday night.
Syracuse was led by senior John Wallace and sophomore Todd Burgan. The duo combined to score 40 points and grab 11 rebounds. Otis Hill scored 15 points while Lazarus Sims scored 11 points and dished out nine assists. Turnovers proved to be the difference as Syracuse took care of the ball, only turning it over five times to Mississippi State’s 21.
Boeheim went with a starting lineup of Sims, Jason Cipolla, Burgan, Wallace and Hill. Marius Janulis and J.B. Reafsnyder played sparingly off the bench.
Mississippi State jumped out to an early 15-8 lead as Dontae’ Jones found a groove with seven quick points. Syracuse looked to establish its post game early by feeding Hill on the low block and Wallace in the high-post.
Hill made four of his first five shots — battling against Erick Dampier — as his eight points kept Syracuse within striking distance in the early going. Trailing by as many as eight in the first half, Syracuse was able to go on a 12-2 run, taking the lead 22-20. Sims connected on an unconventential three to tie it at 20 and Hill gave SU the lead on a mid-range jumper.
Mississippi State led through most of the half. The 2-3 zone struggled to slow Mississippi State’s shooting and the Bulldogs out-rebounded Syracuse 19-6 in the first half. Still, 13 turnovers by the Bulldogs (to Syracuse’s one) kept the game close. The Orange scored 14 points off turnovers.
Toward the end of the half, Syracuse tied the game at 29 on a Sims lob to Wallace that initially appeared to be under-thrown. Wallace reached over Marcus Bullard and dunked to knot the score.
Toward the end of the half, sensing Mississippi State would be careless with the ball, Boeheim went to his half-court trap out of the 2-3 zone. Syracuse immediately created a turnover and then went to its full court press right after, which resulted in yet another turnover.
In the final minute of the half, Wallace gave Syracuse the lead 36-34 on a post fade bank. But Russell “Big Country” Walter answered with a jumper from the short corner to tie it. Cipolla had a layup just after the buzzer that wasn’t counted and both teams went into the break tied at 36. Mississippi State shot 64.0% from the floor while Syracuse shot 52.0%. The Orange scored 26 points in the paint to the Bulldogs’ 12.
Both defenses picked up the intensity out of the break. Stops were traded along with ties and lead changes until Syracuse went over three minutes without scoring. Mississippi State continued its sloppy play, turning the ball over despite the Bulldogs’ better shooting.
Syracuse looked like it would run away with the game midway through the second as SU jumped out to a three possession lead, but Darrly Wilson nailed a three back to get his team back within four. Syracuse responded, creating separation with an eight point cushion with just over seven minutes left, but once again Mississippi State made a run. A quick score followed by a Wilson three got the game back to within one possession.
From there, Burgan answered with a three of his own and Cipolla followed suit to give the Orange its largest lead of the game at nine with under four minutes to play. Syracuse’s lead ballooned from there as Mississippi State struggled to execute late.
The Orange led by as many as 14 with just under two minutes to go. Wilson made a few 3s toward the end of the game to make the final score look respectable, but turnovers were the difference.
Syracuse advanced to the title game, where SU will be the first Big East team to compete for a National Championship since 1989.