BOSTON – It’s not just a cliché that three words are all that matter in March – survive and advance. That’s what Syracuse did on Thursday night, surviving a game that a lot of teams might have lost against Wisconsin with a 64-63 win. Indeed, head coach Jim Boeheim was having a hard time trying to remember a similar game that his team has won.
“They made 14 threes, and usually that’s enough,” said the Syracuse mentor. “I don’t think anybody has ever made 14 threes against us and we beat them.”
With just under eight minutes left, Wisconsin was 14-22 from long range in the game, including 9-11 in the second half. Jared Berggren had stretched the defense with a 3-3 mark mostly in the first half, and Jordan Taylor and Ben Brust were making those shots in the second half. It seemed as though they couldn’t miss at times.
Despite all of that, Wisconsin only led 56-53. They were shooting lights out, but were barely in the lead. That was the case because Syracuse had a pretty good field goal percentage as well – thanks to many easy baskets. Even though the Badgers were hitting from long range, Syracuse continued to score to either keep the lead or get it back, and they did so often in transition or getting into the paint fairly easily.
“Every time they scored, I think we scored right back,” said senior guard Scoop Jardine.
“When the other team is making threes like that, you have to keep scoring,” added Boeheim.
Wisconsin had a lead for a while in the first half, but once Berggren had to sit with foul trouble, the offense was different. It was stagnant more often, without the same kind of player and ball movement. Syracuse looked ready to take over, but they couldn’t quite shake the Badgers as they went into the locker room with a six-point lead despite shooting 63.6 percent from the field.
“I knew we were in trouble,” Boeheim said. “At halftime we were 14-22 and we had a six-point lead.”
While Wisconsin had to work very hard all night long, with a lot of movement without the ball and good passes, Syracuse barely had to break a sweat for too many of their field goals. And once the shots stopped going – the Badgers missed the five they attempted from behind the arc the rest of the game after the aforementioned start – they had a tougher time scoring. A shooting pace like the one they had is difficult to maintain even within the confines of a single game, and they got those shots from running the offense very well.
But Syracuse shot over 55 percent for the game against a team known for its defense. Coming into Thursday night’s game, the Badgers allowed opponents to shoot under 39 percent from the field. The Badgers played well enough at the offensive end to win, turning it over just six times for the game, but they didn’t play well enough defensively to pull it out.
It helps that Syracuse is deeper. Wisconsin legitimately goes about eight deep, but Syracuse is not only deeper in numbers but also in players that could beat you. In different stretches, the best player on the floor was C.J. Fair, Scoop Jardine and Dion Waiters. Brandon Triche, who scored 11 points on the night, is capable of being that player as well, as is Kris Joseph, who looked like he was going to lead the way early in the second half before he struggled the rest of the way. The Orange ran out fresh bodies, but also had more players who were able to make plays when they were needed.
Even with all of that, the Orange still had to make one last stop. Taylor missed a deep three-pointer, and the Badgers couldn’t get a good shot off after the rebound, allowing the Orange to survive and advance.
Syracuse’s depth was a big part of this team winning. Now they are a win away from advancing to the Final Four, which happened the last time they played one of the first two weekends in Boston.