Ryan Blackwell had 23 points and 12 rebounds tonight to lead No. 17 Syracuse to a 68-49 victory over Wisconsin in the championship game of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Classic.
Blackwell, a senior forward, had his second strong game in two nights in the absence of starting center Etan Thomas, who remained hospitalized for a second day because of a staph infection. Blackwell, named tournament MVP, led Syracuse with 18 points in the Orangemen's 60-43 win over Princeton on Friday night.
"It's a confidence booster, I think, knowing we can do things without him," Blackwell said of Thomas. "Etan is one of the best centers in the nation, and the way we stepped up is big for us."
Wisconsin center Mark Vershaw, who scored 19 points and had seven assists in the Badgers' first-round victory over Missouri, got into foul trouble in the second half, and the Badgers went bust.
"We're a team that battles down people," said Vershaw, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. "We're not able to respond so quickly. We dug ourselves two holes, and we weren't able to get out of the second one."
Trailing by seven points early in the second half, Wisconsin finally took advantage of Thomas's absence and pounded the ball inside to tie the game. A hook in the lane and a layup by Andy Kowske and a three-point play by Vershaw tied it at 36.
But Vershaw got his third foul with 9 minutes 54 seconds left and Kowske, who had 12 points, got his fourth less than two minutes later, and Syracuse took off.
A steal by DeShaun Williams and a fast-break dunk by Damone Brown got the Orangemen started on a 24-6 run. Blackwell converted a steal into a layup at the other end, followed with a jumper from the left corner and hit a layup for a 52-42 lead with just more than six minutes left.
A three-pointer by Williams and a basket by backup center Billy Celuck off a feed from Blackwell gave Syracuse a 60-42 lead with 5:15 left.
After a slow start--the teams combined to miss their first seven shots as both defenses excelled--Syracuse used a 9-0 run to take an 11-point lead.
The performance, especially by seniors Blackwell and Hart, left Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim smiling.
"This was a huge win," he said. "We've got to be very happy with the turmoil of this week, believe me. I'm happy to get out of here with two wins."