NEW YORK—Most of the national attention that Yancy Gates has garnered this season is for a reason that he’d rather put in the past.
But his two-game run so far in the Big East tournament is changing that trend.
Gates had 18 points and seven rebounds as underdog Cincinnati got their biggest win of the season in their biggest game of the season, upsetting No. 2 Syracuse, 71-68, on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.
“My guys played with unbelievable toughness,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. “To be able to battle them on the glass, even with our lack of size…just a tremendous job all around…It’s a huge win for our program.”
With the stands awash in a sea of orange t-shirts in what felt like a home game for Syracuse, Cincinnati was calm, using good ball movement and timely shooting from three-point distance to do what only one other team has done this year: beat Jim Boeheim’s ball club.
New York-area native Sean Kilpatrick added 18 points for the Bearcats on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc, which kicked the rest of Cincinnati’s offensive attack into gear.
“It was big because [the guards] hitting shots really opened it up for me in the middle,” said Gates. “It was pretty much one-on-one with [Syracuse center] Fab Melo.”
A three-point shooting barrage of 8-of-13 for Mick Cronin’s team in the first half set the tone early and also kept Syracuse from getting out in transition, where they have been most effective all season.
The Orange had just two fastbreak points on Friday night, which kept their offense out-of-sync for the most part, with the exception of an impressive 28 points from sophomore Dion Waiters.
So this is where we stand.
A team that was written off at the beginning of the season after a loss to Presbyterian and for being a part of one of the ugliest incidents in the recent history of college basketball, that team stands poised to win a Big East tournament title and score an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We were talking about that last night, getting attention for our play and not the mistakes we’ve made,” said Gates. “It’s my senior year and every..player wants to play in the Big East tournament championship game and I’ve got that opportunity tomorrow night.”
They Bearcats will face Louisville, a blowout winner over Notre Dame, in the Big East title game.
Not much changes for Syracuse, though, as they are still in line to have a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_