Zach Lydon was dejected on Friday. There he was, ensconced in his seat with a forlorn look on his face as he stared at the display, convinced that all hope was lost.
His flight had been delayed.
For all he and his friends had done to make it possible for him to see his little brother Tyler Lydon compete in the NCAA tournament, it was about to be for naught.
Fast-forward a bit. Tyler, an Elizaville native, would emerge as a hero for the Syracuse University men’s basketball team in the waning seconds of Friday’s game, making the saving play to help the Orange edge Gonzaga, 63-60, and advance to the Elite 8 round.
The 10th-seeded Orange set the stage for a showdown with No. 1 Virginia at 6:09 p.m. Sunday with Syracuse seeking its first Final Four appearance since 2013.
Who knew that would happen? Zach Lydon isn’t clairvoyant and a few hours prior, he was stuck in a Syracuse airport.
His parents and two youngest brothers had driven to Chicago a day earlier to see Tyler. Zach, despite a class presentation Friday, decided last-minute to book an evening flight there to catch the 9:40 p.m. game. His best friend and schoolmate, Rob Galm, drove from SUNY Cortland to the airport to drop him off in time. Only for Zach to read on the display that his scheduled 5:15 p.m. flight wasn’t expected to board until 7 o’clock.
“I was thinking, ‘Just my luck,’” he said. “Buy the ticket and I’ll still miss the game. And if they lose, I’m gonna get there just in time to hear they lost and turn right back.”
That crisis was averted and the delay lasted only a little over an hour. Lydon arrived at the Union Center just in the nick of time.
But his uneasiness would soon return as Syracuse struggled early and Tyler was held quiet for most of the contest. The Orange twice rallied from considerable deficits and, in the waning seconds, held a one-point lead. But Gonzaga had possession and Josh Perkins drove inside with four seconds left and went for the potential winner…
“I caught the end of warmups and (Perkins) was practicing a lot of floaters and draining them,” Zach Lydon said. “Once he came around that screen and went for the floater, I was thinking, ‘Oh, no, we’re done.’ Then I see a long, lanky arm come out of nowhere.”
Just in the nick of time.
The arm belonged to Tyler Lydon and was used to deflect the shot attempt. Lydon then corralled the loose ball and was fouled with a second left. His two free throws secured the victory. The 6-foot-8 freshman had four points, four rebounds and six blocks.
“I should’ve been watching this game from the waiting room of a cardiologist’s office,” joked Brendan LoBrutto, the Pine Plains boys basketball coach who coached Lydon for three years. “I’d love to see the bracket of the person who had Syracuse in their Elite 8. But the more you watch them, the more impressed you are. I’m obviously rooting for Tyler, but that whole team is gritty and fun to watch.”
After the game, there was hysteria, including about 100 orange-clad fans camping out in the lobby of the team’s hotel, Zach said. The players arrived and Tyler raced through the horde to embrace his family.
“That was a perfect moment after the most meaningful game I’ve ever watched,” Zach said. “I don’t think it can get any better.”
They’ll try to top it on Sunday. Galm and his father, Jeff, plan to join the Lydons — “my extended family,” Rob Galm said — in Chicago. They hit the road for the 11-hour drive on Saturday evening, after Rob broadcast two Cortland lacrosse games.
Syracuse is an 8½-point underdog against Virginia, which is coming off an 84-71 win over Iowa State on Friday. The Cavaliers (29-7) have dominated each of its three NCAA tournament opponents. They’re a balanced team with a versatile roster, led by guard Malcolm Brogdon, who averages 18.4 points. Virginia beat Syracuse, 73-65, back in January and Lydon was held to four points.
“They’re a hard team to game plan for because they do so many things well,” Zach Lydon said. “But I think if Syracuse plays like they did in the first two tournament games, they can pull it out.”
Galm, 20, and Zach have been best friends since second grade. His friendship with Tyler grew from there and now he sports a No. 20 Syracuse jersey during games. He and his girlfriend, Eryn Griep, watched Friday’s game in a Cortland restaurant and Galm, admittedly, “went crazy” after Lydon’s block and immediately received text messages that read, “YOUR BOY DID IT!”
He, along with Justin Cooper and the Lydon brothers, helped lead the Pine Plains basketball team to a state Class C final in 2013. That quartet keeps in constant contact and Galm sends Tyler motivational Bible verses before each game. But his closeness with Tyler first burgeoned in Little League baseball.
“I had just hit my first ever home run,” Galm said, remembering himself as a 12-year-old. “Ty had probably hit 10 by then, but he was the first person out to greet me at home plate. You don’t forget things like that and what kind of person he is. Now it’s his time to shine.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
No. 10 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Virginia
What: NCAA tournament Elite 8
When: Sunday, approximately 6:09 p.m.
Where: United Center, Chicago