“Prophet” Malachi Leads Comeback as Syracuse Beats Top-seeded Virginia, 68-62

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About an hour before the Syracuse men’s basketball team took the floor for its game against Virginia, the university’s women’s basketball players were climbing a ladder to cut down the net in Sioux Falls, S.D.

It seemed like such good fun that the men followed suit.

On the same day the Syracuse women’s team reached the N.C.A.A. Final Four by beating Tennessee, the 10th-seeded men did the same by overcoming a 14-point first-half deficit to defeat top-seeded Virginia, 68-62, in the Midwest Regional final.

A spot in the men’s Final Four was not what many college basketball fans expected for Syracuse, but the Orange defied their skeptics and rode a No. 10 seed all the way to the ultimate week of the college basketball season.

Led by Malachi Richardson, who scored 23 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, Syracuse (23-13) stunned Virginia (29-8), which was looking to make its first Final Four appearance since 1984. For Syracuse, it will be the fifth Final Four under Coach Jim Boeheim, who had to take some special satisfaction in this particular achievement.

Boeheim was suspended for nine games by the N.C.A.A., which held him responsible for allegations of academic fraud by his staff members. Now, less than three months later, he has led his team to the N.C.A.A.’s biggest party.

“It’s the best comeback I’ve seen at Syracuse,” he said after the game. “I haven’t been there forever, but 56 years. It’s the best comeback we’ve ever had.”

London Perrantes, Virginia’s junior guard, was virtually unstoppable in the first half, scoring 16 points on five 3-pointers. But Syracuse held him to only 2 points in the second half, which went a long way toward deciding the game.

The game began slowly, with both teams struggling to gather their nerves. Nearly five minutes into the game, the teams had combined to score only 6 points. Syracuse ultimately grabbed the early lead, 8-2, but that changed drastically over the next eight minutes when Virginia went on a 19-2 run.

Perrantes made a pair of 3-pointers and then the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon converted a traditional 3-point play after a beautiful feed from Mike Tobey, and Virginia had its first lead, 11-10, eight minutes into the game.

Perrantes drained another 3-pointer at the 9:39 mark, and when Thompson finished a fast break by flipping the ball high and into the basket, Virginia led, 21-10.

Syracuse’s only first-half highlight came when the freshman Tyler Lydon fell down on the offensive end and lost his shoe. He kicked it to the side, slid out to the 3-point line where he received a pass, dribbled once to get open and hit a one-shoe 3-pointer to the delight of Syracuse fans.

But Perrantes hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half with 41 seconds to play before intermission, and Virginia carried a 35-21 lead into the locker room. But it was Syracuse that would come out of halftime and eventually seize control of the game.

Their first little run came early in the second half. Trevor Cooney drove Perrantes to the basket and scored on an up-and-under move to draw Syracuse within 39-29. Lydon followed with a 3-pointer — this one with both shoes on — to send the deficit into single digits, 59-52.

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SOURCE: DAVID WALDSTEIN
The New York Times