The No. 1 seed Orange, playing without Big East Defensive Player of the Year Fab Melo, got 15 points and eight boards from James Southerland off the bench as they hung on to beat a feisty UNC-Asheville team, 72-65.
Never before, in the history on the NCAA tournament on the men’s side has a No. 16 seed beaten a No. 1 seed (it happened once in the women’s tournament), and for a while it looked like the Bulldogs could end up being the first. They took a four point lead into the halftime break, but after a trio of clutch jumpers from Southerland in the second half, UNCA found themselves down 62-54 with just 2:24 left in the game.
This is where the conspiracy theorists are going to make an appearance.
After a pair of buckets from the Bulldogs, cut the lead to four, Scoop Jardine made his way to the free throw line for a one-and-one. He missed the first, but JP Primm was called for a lane violation. It was a weird call, not one that you often see, but it was also the correct call. Jardine proceeded to knock down both free throws and push the lead to six.
The resilient Bulldogs weren’t done yet, however. On the ensuing possession, Jaron Lane buried a three to cut the lead to three with just over a minute left. On the inbounds, Brandon Triche had the ball clearly bounce off his hands, but the referees awarded the ball to the Orange. The presumption? They didn’t want to call a foul on UNCA (which would have been just as bad of a call) and instead gave possession to Syracuse.
(For what it’s worth, NCAA coordinator of officials said he would have given the ball to UNC-Asheville on the play in question.)
The Orange would go on to hit their next six free throws and the Bulldogs never would get another possession with the ball and a chance to tie the game.
It is a devastating way for the Bulldogs to lose, particularly for Matt Dickey. One half of UNCA’s talented senior back court — the other being JP Primm — Dickey went just 1-13 in the game. He came in as the Bulldog’s leading scorer. That hurts.
As far as I’m concerned, this performance from Syracuse had nothing to do with Fab Melo’s absence from the lineup and everything to do the presence of his distraction. Defense wasn’t the issue. Effort and focus was. And if that doesn’t change, the Orange are going to lose to Kansas State on Saturday.