This Day in March Madness History: Syracuse comes back from the dead

This Day in March Madness History

March 27, 2016
Virginia vs. Syracuse

  • The Setup
    The 2016 NCAA basketball tournament had been somewhat standard outside of the Midwest Region that saw Syracuse and Virginia clash in an Elite Eight match-up. Most people could have predicted Virginia being at that stage, and the Cavaliers had gotten there with few issues, an eight-point win in the Round of 32 their closest call. Virginia was the top-seed in the region, but prior to the first round, they weren’t necessarily the fan favorite to get to the Final Four, as Michigan State, the second seed, was a popular national champion pick among brackets.
    That all changed when the Spartans were stunned by 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee in the Round of 64, leading to absolute chaos on the bottom half of the bracket. Syracuse was the biggest beneficiary as, after beating seventh-seeded Dayton, they got to face Middle Tennessee in the second round. They won by 25 points, heading to the Sweet 16, where they received excellent luck again. Rather than third-seeded Utah awaiting the Orange, they met #11 Gonzaga, who had stunned the Utes by 23 points. Syracuse escaped the Bulldogs, 63-60, and moved on to create a very unlikely Elite Eight contest against the Cavaliers. 
  • How it went down
    Virginia was the higher ranked team, but they hadn’t been in the Elite Eight since 1995. In that time span, Syracuse had reached that stage four times, including going to the Final Four in 2014 and winning a national championship in 2003. Whether it would be Virginia’s talent or Syracuse’s magic and pedigree that mattered was yet to be seen. However, the opening minutes were slow, as nerves showed for both teams. At the first media timeout, four minutes into the game, Syracuse led just 4-2. Both teams awoke, but it was UVA who truly roared to life, as the Cavaliers accelerated past the Orange with a 19-2 run that covered 8 minutes and 8 seconds of clock time. That set the tone, and Virginia’s suffocating defense allowed them to take a comfortable 35-21 lead into the break.
    UVA allowed Syracuse to creep within single digits to start the half, but the Cavaliers quickly re-asserted themselves. With 9:33 showing on the clock, ACC player of the year Malcolm Brogdon drove and kicked it out to London Perrantes. Perrantes buried a three and Virginia took a commanding 54-39 lead. But that’s where things got interesting, as Syracuse started to figure out Virginia’s defense.
    The Orange scored on their next five trips down the floor, but Virginia did manage a pair of layups to keep Syracuse at bay, 58-49. However, Syracuse then really made their move. Malachi Richardson got free at the top of key and he drained a three to make it a six-point game. As UVA pushed down the court, Richardson swiped at the ball and it began to sail out of bounds, but the freshman leapt out of bounds and turned to ricochet the ball off Brogdon to make it Syracuse ball. Tyler Lydon buried another triple on the ensuing possession and it was 58-55. Two layups later, and the Orange had an unlikely lead. Richardson extended it with another three. When all was said and done, it was a stunning 25-4 run for Syracuse that turned a 15-point deficit into a 64-58 lead with 3:27 to play. Virginia’s slow-moving offense got back within 64-62 with 26 seconds to play, but that was as close as they would get. After a Syracuse free throw, the Cavaliers missed a game-tying three. The Orange went 3-4 from the charity stripe in the final 15 seconds to ice the 68-62 upset win. 
  • The Aftermath
    Syracuse’s Cinderella story struck midnight in the Final Four, as they were manhandled by North Carolina. Two years later, the Orange made another surprising run, roaring into the Sweet 16 as an 11-seed before losing to Duke. Meanwhile, Virginia’s fall was the start of a bottoming out that would then lead to their first national title. They lost in the Round of 32 in 2017, and then they became the first 1-seed to lose to a 16-seed, getting routed by twenty points by UMBC. The Cavaliers rebounded and, due to this year’s cancellation, are still the defending champions after winning it all in 2019. 

NBA Notables
Syracuse – NONE
Virginia – Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks, Pacers)

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