Marching on: Syracuse survives West Virginia to advance to Sweet 16

Marching on: SU survives WVU to advance to Sweet 16

Buddy Boeheim drops 25 points to propel the Orange past the Mountaineers, 75-72.
Published: March 21, 2021
Syracuse v West Virginia
West Virginia Mountaineers against the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In nail biting fashion, Syracuse men’s basketball held on to defeat the No. 3 seeded West Virginia Mountaineers to advance to the Sweet 16. Buddy Boeheim struggled early but used a strong 22-point second half to lead ‘Cuse to a 75-72 victory.

West Virginia answered a strong first half by the Orange with strong shooting in the second, but Syracuse survived a 9-2 rally to close the game.

Marek Dolezaj finished with 12 points and five assists, and Joe Girard III added 12 points and seven assists.

After the game, Boeheim described playing under his father, head coach Jim Boeheim.

“He’s one of the best coaches in all of sports,” Boeheim said. “There’s no better feeling than bringing him back to another Sweet 16.”

The Orange picked up exactly where they left off in their first-round victory with an intensity and liveliness that overwhelmed the Mountaineers.

Boeheim opened the scoring with a quick three off of a screen, and his teammates followed suit. Girard, Alan Griffin and Quincy Guerrier all hit threes in the first six minutes to extend the SU lead to 17-10.

Unlike their first round matchup, all five starters were quickly on the board as Dolezaj added free throws to the ‘Cuse cause. A hot shooting start saw the Orange ahead 19-10 after eight minutes.

On the defensive end, Dolezaj drew two early charges, and the Orange swarmed the WVU shooters and ball-handlers every trip down the floor. The 2-3 zone that stifled SDSU in the round of 64 presented early problems for WVU as they shot 9/28 from the field in the first half.

Bob Huggins, longtime head coach of West Virginia, is not unfamiliar with Jim Boeheim’s defense from their time as Big East rivals, but his familiarity could not outmatch Girard’s streaky start.

Girard knocked down each of his first three 3-pointers en route to a 24-10 lead and a 7-0 run. The Orange made six threes in the first half after setting a program record with 15 successful threes in the tournament on Friday.

Part of the early success for SU was their shooting, but the defense rattled the passers all over the court. The Mountaineers committed 11 turnovers in the first half despite averaging 11.9 per game.

The Orange only scored two points off of turnovers in the first half, but eventually led in forced turnovers 11-7.

West Virginia cut into the lead with strong 3-point shooting at the end of the half, but Girard responded with his fourth of the game. Sean McNeil knocked down consecutive deep threes, so Girard pulled up from 30 feet to the delight of the crowd.

Heading into the locker room, the Orange maintained a 35-29 lead, but not capitalizing on turnovers and better shooting gave WVU momentum. Boeheim went cold after his first shot and missed his other five attempts, while Dolezaj picked up his third foul with just four seconds remaining before the horn.

In the postgame press conference, Boeheim applauded Dolezaj’s ability to stay in the game and help the team.

“I thought the first half we played the best defense we played all season,” Boeheim said. “The key was Marek. Marek does so much for us. He’s one of the most underrated players in the country. He makes winning plays that are not noticed sometimes.”

Syracuse v West Virginia
West Virginia Mountaineers against the Syracuse Orange in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Exiting the break, ‘Cuse recaptured any momentum that was lost with three triples, including two from Boeheim. Girard picked up his fifth assist on a Dolezaj flush, and the Orange widened the lead, 46-35.

Just five minutes into the second half, Dolezaj found himself on the bench after his fourth foul on a charge. Jesse Edwards picked up his fourth foul shortly thereafter, placing both players on the sideline.

Foul trouble against the third ranked team in made free throws and a scoring drought cut the SU lead to two as the midpoint of the half neared, but Boeheim answered with his third and fourth threes of the half for a timely scoring punch.

McNeil continued to confound the SU defense as he poured in his fifth three of the game to cut the score to 52-50. His sixth three on the next possession gave WVU their first lead of the game.

The lead changed hands throughout the second half, but WVU began dominating the glass, especially on offense. SU was out-rebounded 43-32 on the game and 20-6 on the offensive boards. The Orange blocked six shots to the Mountaineer’s one, but foul trouble limited the aggressiveness of SU defensively.

As he did in the first game, Boeheim had a streaky scoring run to elevate the Orange. He knocked down a pull-up jumper and a deep three to help widen the lead to six with just under four remaining.

Boeheim’s 13th three of the tournament passed assistant coach Gerry McNamara’s mark for the most threes in the first two games of the tournament for the Orange. After the game, he described passing his shooting coach.

“There’s no one better than G-Mac (McNamara),” Boeheim said. “There will never be a better shooter to come to Syracuse. He’s like a big brother to me.”

With two minutes remaining, Guerrier punctuated a 10-2 scoring run with a monstrous dunk off a Dolezaj feed. Syracuse held a 72-63 lead as the game reached its climax.

A late turnover and bad inbounding brought the Mountaineers within four, 72-68, and with less than 30 seconds remaining, Dolezaj had to burn the Orange’s final timeout as he was trapped in the backcourt.

Kadary Richmond was inserted into the game to get the ball up court, and his speed got the ball into Boeheim’s hands. He hit both free throws after an intentional foul, and the Orange clung to a four point lead.

With 4.5 seconds remaining, Syracuse missed the one-and-one, and WVU raced down the court to cut the lead to 74-72. Dolezaj inbounded the ball to Boeheim, who was fouled on a difficult catch. At the line, Boeheim made the first and missed his second, but a travel ended the game for WVU, 75-72.

The victory advances the Orange to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2018. Jim Boeheim advances to the Sweet 16 for the third time as a double-digit seed, the most in the NCAA. Syracuse will face the winner of Rutgers and Houston to be decided later tonight.

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is a magazine, news and online graduate student and lead sports producer for The NewsHouse.