As I watched John Gillon’s shot soar through the air, crash off the backboard and fly through the rim to beat No. 10 Duke at the buzzer, I found myself thinking about ‘Jurassic Park.’
Syracuse, like life, finds a way.
The Orange, for nearly the last two seasons, have simply navigated a path toward their destination, even if it looked blocked before they got started.
Gillon’s banked in 3-pointer at the buzzer, which gave the Orange a 78-75 win over the Blue Devils, is emblematic of Syracuse prevailing in the least expected ways.
The Orange came into the night squarely on the bubble. They had lost their last three games to drop their record to 16-12. They trailed Duke by as many as nine only to take the lead and then give right back.
It didn’t matter. The Orange found a way, however unlikely, to win the game.
That’s been their M.O. since last season. Syracuse dropped five of its last six games of that year. The Orange got blown out by Louisville and Pitt before losing close ones to North Carolina, Florida State and then Pitt in the ACC tournament.
Despite the swoon, the selection committee found a way to slot them as the 10th seed in the Midwest, where they blew through the first two rounds, snuck by Gonzaga and then came roaring back from 16 down in Chicago to defeat top-seed Virginia to earn the program’s sixth Final Four appearance.
They found a way.
With their NCAA tournament hopes very much in the balance against Duke, it was very much the same.
Luke Kennard, who scored 23 points and had five assists, took the ball with just over 10 seconds to play outside the 3-point arc. The 6-foot-6 sophomore found the 6-foot Gillon on an island trying to guard him alone. Kennard went left, then right – unable to find a shred of daylight as Gillon denied him an inch – and finally spun back left. With him with every step was Gillon, who contested Kennard’s jumper from the elbow and watched it clank off the rim into teammate Tyus Battle’s hands.
Battle passed across the court to Gillon with five seconds left. Gillon raced in a straight line across half court and was met by three Blue Devils. He pulled up, had a slight double-clutch as he gathered himself in mid-air and launched Syracuse’s chance to win into the awaiting space.
The backboard lights lit up right before impact, signalling the expiration of the clock, but also drawing attention to what was about to happen there in tenths of a second.
Ricochet and through. The Orange found a way.
Where they go from here is anyone’s guess. There’s no guarantee of another magical Final Four run, or even an NCAA tournament berth, though that certainly looks prevailingly likely now.
This loss doesn’t really wound Duke, who saw its seven-game win streak stopped, but it props up the Orange to continue to pursue their goals. Any which way they can.