Rapid Reaction: Cincinnati 71, Syracuse 68
March, 9, 2012
By Kieran Darcy | ESPN.com
Thoughts on Cincinnati's 71-68 upset of Syracuse on Friday:
Overview: Cincinnati is going where no Cincinnati team has gone before -- and Syracuse suddenly looks near-invincible no more.
In a stunning upset, in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,057 mostly Syracuse fans, No. 4 seed Cincinnati defeated the previously 31-1 and top-seeded Syracuse Orange 71-68, and advanced to its first Big East tournament championship game.
The Bearcats led from wire to wire and held off the Orange down the stretch. Syracuse will still be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament next week, but won't be quite as intimidating now.
Cincinnati (24-9) has its NCAA stock on the rise after back-to-back wins against Georgetown and Syracuse in New York.
Turning point: Cincinnati came out about as hot as you can get -- the Bearcats connected on eight of their first 10 3-point attempts and led by as many as 17 points in the first 20 minutes. Syracuse cut the deficit to 12, 35-23, at halftime.
Syracuse gradually whittled down the Cincinnati lead in the second half, all the way down to five -- and at one point Brandon Triche had two free throws to cut it to three with 4:10 left, but missed both, which was huge.
The two biggest shots of the game were a pair of corner treys by Sean Kilpatrick. The first, with 5:21 left, pushed Cincinnati's 55-50 lead to 58-50 and gave the Bearcats some much-need breathing room in the middle of Syracuse's push. The second, with 1:47 remaining, appeared to be the dagger, extending the lead from 62-55 to 65-55.
Syracuse made it interesting in the final seconds, thanks in large part to some missed free throws by Cincinnati. The Orange actually had the ball down 69-66 with 15 seconds left, but the Bearcats smartly fouled Dion Waiters before he could get off a game-tying 3-point attempt. Waiters made his two free throws, but then Cincinnati was able to inbound the ball, avoid a foul, and threw it ahead for a dunk to wrap things up.
Key player: Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates had just three points in the first half, when his team was lights-out from beyond the arc. But he he came up huge in the second half, with 15 points, cleaning up off the glass after some misses from the perimeter. He also had seven rebounds.
Kilpatrick, his teammate, also had 18 points and hit those two huge 3-pointers. The White Plains, N.Y., native will surely treasure doing this in front of the home crowd forever.
Waiters did everything he could to carry Syracuse on his back, with 28 points off the bench, including shooting 7-for-10 from 3-point range.
Key stat: Cincinnati, which shot just 2-for-21 from 3-point range in its double-overtime win over Georgetown on Thursday, shot 10-for-22 from beyond the arc against Syracuse.
Syracuse, which turned the ball over just four times in its win over UConn on Thursday, had 15 turnovers against Cincinnati.
Miscellaneous: Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was in attendance for the game, seated courtside.
What's next: Cincinnati will play No. 7 seed Louisville in the Big East title game, at 9 p.m. Saturday.
Syracuse heads back north to lick its wounds and get ready for the Big Dance.