The Orange did survive that first-round scare though, beating UNC Asheville. Then they won another key game and another. That made three big wins without a key player. Saturday night, though, Syracuse’s magic ran out at TD Garden.
Maybe it was Ohio State’s strength inside. Maybe it was the Buckeyes’ persistence on defense. Or maybe it was the strange officiating, which turned the game into a series of stops and starts that made it very difficult for either team to get much flow or momentum.
Whatever it was didn’t really matter to the Buckeyes, who walked away with a 77-70 victory in the East Region final and will move on to the Final Four in New Orleans while the Orange goes home to ponder what might have been at the end of one of the most up-and-down seasons any basketball team has ever experienced.
“We got it to one and needed to make some plays at the end and we didn’t,” Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said, clearly upset by what he had just witnessed. “In the last minute we needed one more shot when we had it to four and couldn’t get it.”
The person who did get it when it mattered most was Ohio State’s Lenzelle Smith, who hit a fallaway three-pointer with the shot clock at about two seconds when Syracuse had closed what had been a 10-point gap to 52-51. Smith then hit a remarkable floating runner that appeared likely to bring rain before it fell through the basket to give Ohio State a 62-55 lead with 3 minutes 12 seconds to play. From there, the Buckeyes hung on by hitting 13 of 14 free throws.
In all, there were 67 free throws attempted in the game — that’s not a typo: 67. The officials called 49 fouls, almost double the 25 that were called in the spectacular Syracuse-Wisconsin game two nights earlier.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State’s best player, went to the bench with 13:42 left in the first half when he picked up his second foul when he was backing up to avoid contact. A few minutes later, Boeheim was hit with his first technical foul of the season by referee Tom O’Neill.
That call came as Brandon Triche drove to the basket with the score tied at 23 and appeared to travel. O’Neill didn’t call the walk but did call a charge. Boeheim leaped off the bench and gave his signature “you’ve got to be kidding” gesture, bringing his hands from over his head to below his waist with his palms down.
“He was out of the [coaches’] box and he gave me the [gesture] and I said, ‘Enough,’ ” O’Neil said.
Boeheim wouldn’t comment on the officiating when specifically asked about it, but in summing up the game, he said: “The problem wasn’t our defense, it was our offense. And I guess we fouled too much.”