Gene J. Puskar, AP Photo
PITTSBURGH — The sighs were audible from the Syracuse fans. So were the complaints from those rooting for North Carolina-Asheville.
Another scare for a No. 1 seed against a lowly 16 was over. The Orange took the lead for good with about 6 minutes to go Thursday and then held on for a 72-65 victory in the second round of the East Regional.
The win made the No. 1s 109-0 since the field went to 64 teams in 1985. Nobody wants to be the team that starts that list. Least of all Syracuse, which was the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 when Richmond beat the Orange 73-69 in 1991.
The crowd of 18,927 at the Consol Energy Center — except those wearing orange — were cheering hard for the Bulldogs, the Big South Conference champions who were in the NCAA tournament for just the third time, all as a 16 seed.
"That always happens," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "If you're a high seed, the crowd gets going, the crowd is always going to switch to them. We lost one road game this year. We've been in some really noisy places when the crowd has not been with us. We've been in those games. We were in that game tonight. You know, it's not something that we haven't been able to handle, and we handled it tonight."
The Orange (32-2) were playing for the first time since starting center Fab Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, was ruled ineligible for the tournament over academics. Syracuse still had a size advantage without the 7-footer — Asheville's tallest starter was 6-5 — yet the Orange kept shooting 3-poiinters and kept missing. They missed 17 of their first 20 from beyond the arc and finished 5 of 23.
"We did not move the ball or attack the zone well," Boeheim said.
The Orange are famed for their 2-3 zone, a staple of the program for decades. Asheville (24-10) played the same thing Thursday and it worked.
"We just played a good 2-3 zone and mixed it up a little bit, playing man-to-man on one possession, zone on the other, just enough to try to keep 'em off balance," Bulldogs coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
But this game will be remembered for the final minutes when the officials made two calls that had the crowd booing and shouting.
The Bulldogs got within three points three times in the final 1:04 but could get no closer as Syracuse made its free throws and there were those calls.
The first call that caused the crowd to react was a lane violation with 1:20 left. Syracuse's Scoop Jardine missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but J.P. Primm was called for passing the head of the key before Jardine let the shot go. Jardine got to shoot the front end again, made it, and made the second for a 64-58 lead.
"They gave me a second chance to make the shot and I made it," Jardine said. "I got myself into a rhythm. I made every free throw from there on out because I do what I practice and believed in myself at that time and made the shots for us."
Primm said: "They showed it on the replay, I think the crowd let him know that it wasn't the right call. ... Like I said, when it gets crunch time like that, like I say, everyone is human."
With 35 seconds left and the Orange leading 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse's Brandon Triche, but the officials pointed the other way and gave it to the Orange. Jardine made two free throws a second later.
"The out of bounds is not reviewable and it is not a play we would discuss," official Ed Corbett told a pool reporter. "I'm not going to comment further because it is a judgment call. It was a clear (lane) violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call."
Boeheim had his own take on the play with Triche.
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