With 9:33 remaining in Sunday’s first Elite Eight game, Syracuse’s magical NCAA tournament run appeared finished. Virginia point guard London Perrantes had just drilled his sixth 3-pointer of the game to push the Cavaliers’ lead over the Orange to 15.
In truly stunning fashion, the Orange flipped a switch and followed that Perrantes shot with a 25-4 run and ultimately knocked off Virginia.
The 10-seeded Syracuse Orange are Final Four bound. Here’s how it happened.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s decision to implement a full-court press late in the second half was the ultimate turning point. Though, it didn’t appear so wise initially.
Perrantes’ big 3-pointer came on the first possession the press was put in place.
More importantly, though, the Cavaliers had no issue breaking the press and getting themselves out in transition.
But what made Boeheim’s decision so genius is that Virginia getting out in transition played right into the Orange’s favor.
Virginia plays at the slowest pace in the entire country – yes, the Cavaliers’ 62.7 possessions per game ranks 351 out of 351 in the country.
Virginia doesn’t want to run. Syracuse forced them to, and the Cavaliers faltered.
Missed layups, turnovers and bad possessions defined Virginia’s experience against the press.
Still, Syracuse needed to thrive on the other end of the floor in order for the turnaround to come to fruition.
Syracuse was showing life but still trailed by 13 after a Darius Thompson layup.
Enter Malachi Richardson.
The freshman proved to be the offensive spark the Orange so desperately needed, scoring 21 of his 23 points in the second half.
Following Thompson’s layup, Richardson hit two free throws and, on the Orange’s next offensive possession, drove to the rack and converted a layup. Nine-point game.
Arguably the biggest sequence of the game came a minute later.
Richardson banged home a straight-away 3 to cut the deficit to six. On the ensuing Virginia possession, the freshman made an incredible defensive play to steal the inbounds pass and get the ball back for the Orange. That set up a Tyler Lydon 3-pointer. Three-point game.
In the blink of an eye, Virginia went from comfortably ahead to having a one-possession lead against a red-hot team that was confident as ever and fired up.
Virginia wouldn’t score again until an Anthony Gill layup at the 1:43 mark, enduring a nearly six-minute long scoring drought in total.
Syracuse scored 15 points during that span. Ten of them came from Richardson.
He was simply on fire.
He hit jumpers, he got to the basket and he even used some trickery to help his cause. After rebounding his own miss with 3:34 left, Richardson faked a pass when under the basket, opening up space for himself to put in a layup himself.
Still, even with the success of the press and Richardson’s heroics, this was still very much a tight battle in the game’s final minutes.
Syracuse called a timeout with a four-point lead. An empty possession would put the Cavs right back in the game.
The Orange didn’t score. But this was far from an empty possession.
Richardson missed a jumper, but seldom-heralded DaJuan Coleman came down with a monster offensive rebound. By the time Virginia got the ball back after a Gill rebound of a Trevor Cooney miss, there was just 45 seconds left in the game.
The Cavaliers scored on their next possession, making it just a two-point game but the damage of Coleman’s rebound was done.
The shot clock was off and Virginia had to start fouling thanks, in large part, to Coleman giving Cuse an extra possession earlier.
Then, Michael Gbijine hit a free throw, Hall missed a possible game-tying 3 and, with nine seconds left and a three-point Syracuse lead, Lydon went to the line with a chance to make it a two-possession game.
Lydon hit both free throws. Dagger. For real this time.
One of the most incredible comebacks in NCAA tournament history was complete, and a team who many questioned its resume heading into the Big Dance is one of the last four standing.