The flickering light that is the NCAA tournament hopes of the Orange is not out just yet.
Syracuse (19-12, 8-10) held on to defeat #18 Clemson (22-8, 11-7) by a final score of 55-52. In front of the largest crowd in college basketball this season (28,670), the Cardiac 'Cuse nabbed its first win over a ranked team in dramatic fashion.
Syracuse grabbed an early lead, thanks to a 12-2 run from 17:36 to 10:21. In the Orange's 85-70 loss to Boston College on Wednesday, all but six of the 70 points were scored by Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett. Forward Marek Dolezaj matched that by himself, putting up a team-high seven first half points.
Eventually, Clemson stormed back, ending the half on a 14-6 run. Tigers forward Elijah Thomas, who dominated inside and from the charity stripe all game long, scored five points during that stretch. The Tigers took a 25-22 lead into break.
The game of runs continued in the second half. The Orange took the lead after going on an 11-0 run from two minutes in up until the 14-minute mark. What seemed like a healthy lead quickly disappeared after a 7-0 run by Clemson tied it up at 43.
After a few more lead changes, the end game became a chess match between the two ACC foes. Syracuse bigs Pascal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibe both had four fouls before the halfway point of the second half. Thomas picked up his fourth with only 2:30 remaining in the game.
Holding a stressful 52-50 lead with 1:30 to go, Chukwu was sent to the free throw line for the Orange. In what many have considered as a disappointing season for the big man, Chukwu stepped up when Syracuse needed him today. The 61.2% free throw shooter sank both. The junior center finished with two points, five rebounds and a big four blocks.
With four seconds remaining and down by two, Marcquise Reed of the Tigers drove down the lane only to be swatted away by Brissett. Reed led all scorers with 21 but was unable to get the game-tying basket to go.
On the following inbounds, Dolezaj was fouled with 2.2 seconds left. The Slovakian sank the first but missed the second. Gabe DeVoe's halfcourt heave for Clemson hit the backboard and rim but did not rattle in. The Cardiac 'Cuse held on for a 55-52 victory in their final regular season game.
This win gives Syracuse some hope going into the ACC tournament. Now, the Orange may only need two or three victories to make the Big Dance. Unfortunately for Syracuse, since they joined the ACC in 2014, they have yet to win a conference tournament game (including the 2015 self-imposed postseason ban).
After today's victory, the Orange are locked into the 11th seed for the ACC tournament. They'll play 14th seed Wake Forest on Tuesday at 7 pm. In the two matchups between Syracuse and the Demon Deacons this year, both teams won on their home courts. Our coverage of the Orange's first round matchup begins at 6:30 with Countdown to Tip-off, right here on WAER.