CHICAGO — In this, the year of the ACC, it was never going to end another way.
Former Pine Plains star Tyler Lydon got a monster block with about two seconds left, then made a pair of free throws to seal a 63-60 victory over Gonzaga and an all-ACC Midwest Region final. Syracuse will play top-seeded Virginia on Sunday.
“Never had any doubt,” said Lydon, who played four seasons of scholastic basketball for Pine Plains at Stissing Mountain High. “We’ve been in that situation before many times, and we learned a lot from those. … It was just a matter of getting stops.”
The late comeback was possible only because of Michael Gbinije, who had 12 of his 20 in the second half. Trevor Cooney added 15 for Syracuse and Tyler Roberson had 12 rebounds, including an offensive board that drew a big foul with 1:28 left.
“I give these guys an unbelievable amount of credit,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “We were in a big hole with not that much time to go. We got a couple steals off the press, and Mike just went after it.”
Kyle Wiltjer had 23 and Domantas Sabonis had 19 points and 17 rebounds for Gonzaga. But neither could get a shot – or a board — when the Bulldogs needed it most.
Gonzaga made 12 of 14 shots to turn a five-point deficit into a 57-48 lead with 6:28 left. But Gonazaga didn’t make a field goal the rest of the game.
“We needed one or two more baskets there just to kind of keep them at bay,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
But Syracuse’s defense was not about to oblige, going to a press that choked the life out of Gonzaga.
With 2:54 left, Cooney stole the inbounds pass and scored on a layup to cut Gonzaga’s lead to 59-56. After a Wiltjer miss at the other end, Lydon scored on a tip-in — his only field goal of the night.
Sabonis was fouled on Gonzaga’s next possession, but could make only one of the two free throws. After Roberson made one of his free throws, the Orange harassed Gonzaga into a 10-second violation and then a Sabonis miss.
Gbinije outmuscled a scrum under the basket for the putback of his own miss, giving Syracuse a 61-60 lead with 22 seconds left.
Neither Sabonis nor Wiltjer could get off a shot, with Cooney all over Wiltjer. He then swooped down to get the steal off Josh Perkins, only to have refs whistle him for stepping out of bounds. Replays seemed to show he wasn’t, his toes on the very edge of the line, and the ball went back to Gonzaga with 11 seconds left.
But Lydon came up with his big block, and Syracuse escaped with another win in its improbable run.
“It was important that we made a stop at the end because after looking at that picture after the game, it looked like he was not out of bounds,” Boeheim said. “So that would have been a tough way to lose.”
Losers of five of their last six to end the regular season, the Orange were criticized by many, who said they had no business being in the tournament. But they’ve proven the committee right, reaching the Elite Eight for the third time in five years.
“We really played well in this tournament,” Boeheim said. “This was our worst offensive game, and we had enough to make a couple plays at the end and win the game.”