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West Virginia’s Comeback Falls Just Short as Syracuse Advances to the Sweet 16



(Photo by Jack Dempsey/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

It was a script West Virginia has followed several times this season. In the second round of the men’s NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon, the Mountaineers got down early to Syracuse but made a strong push in the second half to keep the game competitive.

The Mountaineers are no strangers to pulling off double-digit comebacks this season, twice winning after trailing by as many as 19, and yet Syracuse’s zone defense worked just well enough and hit just enough shots to keep WVU at arm’s length and pull out a 75-72 victory.

The Orange came out of the locker room with the hot hand, making five of their first six 3-point attempts and jumping out to an early 24-10 lead. WVU, on the other hand, seemed helplessly lost against Syracuse’s zone defense. The Mountaineers started 2 of 10 from the floor and committed 11 turnovers in the first half.

Juniors Derek Culver (1 for 7) and Emmitt Matthews (2 of 7) led WVU in shot attempts in the first half but struggled to hit their shots. Senior Taz Sherman also had a cold first half, turning the ball over three times and shooting 1 of 4 from the floor. For Syracuse, Joseph Girard III made four 3-pointers in the first half to lead the Orange with 12 points.

After trailing 30-16 with five minutes left in the first half, West Virginia finally started to get into a rhythm. Miles “Deuce” McBride and Sean McNeil made a pair of 3-pointers each and WVU closed the first half on a 13 to 5 run that cut SU’s lead to 35-29 at halftime. All of WVU’s hard work before halftime seemed to disappear into thin air, as Syracuse came out of the break and made three shots, two from deep, to build the lead right back up to 12, 43-31.

If West Virginia was on the ropes, Syracuse could just not finish the Mountaineers off. After going back up by 12, WVU came storming back with a 13 to 3 run that cut the deficit down to two, 46-44. Buddy Boeheim hit back-to-back 3-pointers to seemingly stem the West Virginia onslaught, but McNeil responded with three straight three-pointers of his own. McNeil’s third make from deep gave WVU its first lead of the game, 53-52.

That was the one and only time WVU would hold a lead in the game, however as a 14 to 3 late run by Syracuse rebuilt the Orange’s lead back up to nine points, 72-63 with a minute left to play. However, even then West Virginia was not done. WVU made four baskets with less than a minute to play, forcing Syracuse to make its free throws. The Orange made four of six free throws down the stretch to ice the game.

McNeil finished with a team-high 23 points with seven made 3-pointers. He was matched by Boeheim, who led SU with 25 points and six treys. McBride finished with 11 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Matthews (14) and Sherman (11) also finished with double-digit points. Culver played just six minutes in the second half and finished with seven points and three rebounds.

With the win, Syracuse advances to the Sweet 16 and will play the winner of Houston and Rutgers.

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