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Mike Lopresti | | March 26, 2016

Tyler Lydon's late block secures Syracuse's spot in Elite Eight

Sweet 16: Syracuse advances past Gonzaga

CHICAGO – The savior of the night for Syracuse – the one who prevented a firestorm with one blocked shot - danced around the locker room, exchanged high-fives, screamed at the moon . . . well, no. Scratch all that.

The savior of the night for Syracuse sat quietly in his chair and looked as if his heart rate would have been well under the speed limit. He had just reserved a prime spot on SportsCenter for the next 24 hours, and possibly spared a tournament controversy. Wasn’t this the time to be kind of, well, excited?

"I’m just trying to soak it all in,’’ said Tyler Lydon, the 6-9 freshman who slammed the door on Gonzaga late Friday night. "It’s my first experience. It’s pretty crazy, I’m trying to gather all my thoughts. I don’t even know what to think or what to feel right now."

Well, here are some suggestions.

What he should think is that he just helped retrieve a game that was disappearing over a cliff for Syracuse, stepping up in the lane in the final seconds to reject Josh Perkins’ would-be winning floater. Then getting fouled and making two free throws to clinch it 63-60.

What he should think is that the Orange team that lost five of its last six games down the stretch and seemed ready to be pushed off the bubble with two hands has now marched to the Midwest Regional final against Virginia. With him accounting for the last couple of steps.

What he should think is lots of other people understand what he had just done.

His teammate, for instance.

"I’m glad he made the block because if he didn’t, I don’t know if that would have gone in or not," Malachi Richardson said.

His coach, for another.

"Tyler Lydon, for a freshman, made an unbelievable play because he normally stays back there," Jim Boeheim said. "But both their big guys were high, so I think he saw that, and he read where Perkins was coming, and he just came up. That's a pretty big play for a freshman to make."

The other coach, too.

"The kid," Mark Few said, "made a heck of a play."

Finally, the blockee. "Taller, longer arms,’’ Perkins said.

But most of all, what he should think of is the mess that would have happened had Perkins’ shot fallen. Because just before that, Syracuse’s Trevor Cooney had appeared to have dashed in and intercepted a Gonzaga pass, but was ruled to have stepped on the baseline as he did. Out of bounds by a toe.

It appeared that Cooney was inbounds. But the Zags kept the ball and had they used it to score and win, well . . .the indignation would have been raging in western New York more than Niagara Falls.

"Would have been a tough way to lose," Boeheim said.

Moot point now. The Syracuse revival goes on. From a turbulent season that included a nine-game Boeheim suspension. From that 1-5 slide against ACC opponents at the end. And Friday night, from being 57-48 with 6:30 to play. Gonzaga didn’t score another field goal after that.

"It’s been a fun ride," Cooney said.

Bracket Breakdown: (1) Virginia vs. (10) Syracuse
And now that the NCAA Tournament has reverted to the form chart – all four No. 1 seeds went storming into the Elite Eight by an average winning margin of nearly 15 points – the lone Cinderella standing is . . . No. 10 seed Syracuse? An ACC 10-times-in-the-Elite-Eight Cinderella?

Maybe Lydon could pass for one, a rather slight freshman, with early stage facial hair he won’t shave off as long as the Orange keep winning.

"No way. No chance. Maybe the beard, but not the mustache."

The big block was Lydon’s sixth of the night, not that he seemed dazzled by the total. ``Honestly I didn’t know I had six,’’ he said, ``I thought I had one.’’

He said it was a matter of keeping his focus, doing his job. And not fouling Perkins. ``You kind of get so caught up in the moment,’’ he said, ``I think I’ve played for so long it’s almost like my body knows what to do, not to foul.’’

He seems to be warming to this tournament business. He has 12 blocks in the past two games.

So Sunday will be an all-ACC party in the United Center, just like the one in Philadelphia between North Carolina and Notre Dame. Just because this tournament has grown more orderly doesn’t mean it can’t still have its bizaare sides. Two ACC teams are guaranteed to reach the Final Four that day. And two are guaranteed to lose.

Boeheim will now study a Virginia team that has been an efficiently humming machine lately, and had 26 assists on 32 field goals in a thumping of Iowa State. The Orange lost to the Cavaliers by eight in Charlottesville in January.

"I know them; that's the problem," Boeheim said. "They know us and we know them, and what I know about them, I don't like. They've got a great team. I think Tony Bennett is one of the best coaches I've ever seen. I've seen a lot of coaches."

It is a match secured by one final swat. Not the first time that sort of thing has happened for Syracuse. Remember Hakim Warrick’s famous block of Michael Lee’s corner 3-pointer for Kansas to seal the 2003 national championship for Syracuse?

So maybe the placid young New Yorker in his chair can claim the second biggest postseason block in Orange history.

"Yeah," Boeheim said. "It's a little ways behind the first one."

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