CHICAGO – Malachi Richardson and Syracuse scrapped and fought their way from the bubble to the Final Four.
Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, and Syracuse extended its improbable run with a 68-62 victory over top-seeded Virginia on Sunday.
The Orange were among the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament after a rough closing stretch, but slipped in as a 10 seed before storming to their first Final Four since 2013 and No. 6 overall. It comes at the end of a challenging season for coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended for nine games as the result of an NCAA investigation.
“It was a whole team effort and these guys really deserve it,” Boeheim said. “We beat a great basketball team. I’ve never been prouder in all my 40 years as coach of a basketball team as I am of this team tonight.”
Syracuse (23-13), which trailed by 16 at the start of the second half, becomes the first 10 seed to make it to the Final Four and just the fourth double-digit seed to accomplish the feat. It’s the lowest-seeded team to reach the national semifinals since VCU in 2011, according to STATS.
Michael Gbinije and freshman Tyler Lydon each scored 11 points for the Orange, who will face North Carolina on Saturday in Houston. Tyler Roberson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We worked so hard,” Gbinije said. “We’ve been through a lot.”
London Perrantes scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Virginia (29-8), which blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC player of the year, had 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting in the final game of his Cavaliers career.
Syracuse trailed 54-39 before it ripped off 25 of the next 29 points, including 15 in a row. And Richardson led the way, often taking the ball right at Brogdon.
Richardson’s driving layup made it 59-58 Orange with 5:47 remaining for their first lead since early in the first half. After Perrantes missed a long 3, Richardson connected from deep and smiled as he ran up the court while making circles around his eyes with his hands.
“I started slow, I had a couple of bad turnovers and Coach got on me at halftime,” Richardson said. “I knew I had to pick it up for my teammates. We were down, and I just wanted to come back and we did it.”
No. 1 North Carolina 88, No. 6 Notre Dame 74: In Philadelphia, Roy Williams will take his postgame injuries as long as he and the Tar Heels are headed to the Final Four.
The Hall of Fame coach bit his tongue and cut a finger during the net-cutting ceremonies after the Tar Heels beat Notre Dame, leaving them as the only No. 1 seed in the Final Four.
“I was screaming. I started to take a step back and I felt like the ladder moved and I grabbed. When I grabbed I grabbed the end of the scissors and it started bleeding,” he said.
That’s OK since his team will head to Houston.
“Never in my life have I wanted something for someone else as I wanted to get these guys to Houston,” he said.
Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Tar Heels reached the Final Four for a record 19th time and the first since 2009, when they won the last of their five national championships.
North Carolina (32-6) will face Syracuse, the 10th seed from the Midwest Regional, in another all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in the Final Four on Saturday. The Orange beat top-seeded Virginia 68-62.
“He should be used to cutting nets,” senior point guard Marcus Paige said of Williams. “He said ‘I’ll bleed for you guys if you keep playing the way we’re playing.’ We’ll get him patched up.”