Was the Syracuse men’s basketball team living on borrowed time, or did their fans jump off the bandwagon prematurely?
Both of those questions were emphatically answered Saturday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, as the top-seeded Orange knocked out no. 8 seed Kansas State 79-65 in the NCAA Tournament’s Round of 32.
Many factors contributed to SU advancing to play the Wisconsin Badgers in the Sweet 16 Thursday night at the TD Garden in Boston, chief among them the fact that the (33-2) Orange displayed balanced scoring.
Seven SU players scored, four of them in double digits. Point guard Scoop Jardine finished with a stellar performance after a subpar first half where he only got two points.
Impressively, Jardine eleveated his performance and finished with 16 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Though he committed five turnovers, those mistakes did not affect his team’s overall performance.
And those first 20 minutes did nothing to diminish Jardine’s confidence. “I thought I was playing good in the first half,” Jardine said.
Dion Waiters played two consistent halves, adding 18 points and four assists. James Southerland had his second big game in a row, logging 28 minutes and getting 15 points and hitting on four 3-pointers.
Kris Joseph had 12 points and freshman Rakeem Christmas chimed in with 8 points and a season-high 11 rebounds. Christmas combined with Baye Keita were excellent defensively, disrupting the rhythm of the Wildcats’ offense.
Both SU and K-State had to navigate without their star players. Just as Fab Melo was out, the Wildcats’ Jamar Samuels, the team’s second-leading scorer, was ruled ineligible just before tip-off.
However it was the Orange that persevered. All season long, SU had been a terrible 3-point shooting team, but against K-State they reversed that awful trend, going six-for-nine from 3-point range and a very respectable 51.1 percent from the floor.