Miami, Florida--The Syracuse Orange rolled into the Sweet 16 with an impressive 78-67 win over the Arizona St. Sun Devils.
The Orange took the lead for good a mere two minutes into the game and never looked back. The lead ballooned to 39-24 with minutes remaining before halftime when ASU regrouped and went on an 8-2 run to close out the first half.
Syracuses' 2-3 zone baffled the Sun Devils who found themselves trailing 41-32 at the half.
With just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, a two point jump-shot by Andy Rautins put Syracuse up 57-42 and ASU looked to be on the ropes. A 17-7 Sun Devil run cut the score to 61-57 with just over five minutes remaining.
With the Orange needing a strong counter jab, big shot specialists Rautins and Eric Devendorf answered the bell.
After a three from Rautins it was Devendorf's turn and he came up huge knocking down back-to-back 3's to put the nail in the coffin.
What was a four-point lead was suddenly a 70-59 Orange advantage.
"Coming into that timeout when we were up four points, it's easy to get rattled," SU guard Jonny Flynn said. "We were up. We'd had a big lead. But Coach Boeheim really sat us down and said, 'Look at the score, look at the time. We're winning the game.'"
Syracuse finished off the game by hitting eight of 10 free throws in the closing minutes.
In attendance at the game was a familiar former Syracuse player who had a knack for hitting some clutch shots himself. After the Rautin's three that began the onslaught, Gerry McNamara who was sitting behind the Orange bench cheered in approval.
"It was a big shot," McNamara said. "That was definitely the turning point."
The Orange were led by the by the hot shooting from guard Devendorf who finished with 21 points including five for 11 from three-point range.
Reserve guard Andy Rautins also had a big game finishing with 17 points and five assists.
Super-soph point guard Jonny Flynn only attempted six shots deciding to defer to his hot shooting teammates and finished with 11 points and seven assists.
Down low center Arinze Onuaku and power forward Rick Jackson combined for 25 points and 11 rebounds.
Arizona St. was led by Rihards Kukskis who almost single handily kept his team from getting blown out in the first half finished with 20 points and hit six three pointers.
Shooting guard Ty Abbot also had a strong game scoring 20 points and went six for 10 from three-point range.
Sophomore sensation and Pac-10 Player Of the Year James Harden continued his dismal tournament performance and finished with only 10 points. Harden missed all five of his three-point attempts and finished 2-10 from the field.
In his first-round game against Temple, Harden shot an ice cold 1-8 and finished with nine points
During the regular season, the probable first team All-American averaged 20.4 points, 4.2 assists, and 5.6 rebounds, but seemed completely lost going against the zone defenses of the Owls and Orange.
Harden is a potential lottery pick in the upcoming 2009 NBA draft and most likely played his last collegiate game.
Syracuse improves to 28-9 and has won nine out of their last 10 games with the sole loss coming against Louisville in the Big East Championship game.
Up next for the Orange is Blake Griffin and the No. 2 seed Oklahoma Sooners.The game will tip at 7:27 p.m. on Friday in Memphis.
If Syracuse beats the Sooners it will give Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim his 800th career win.
Apparently Syracuse's pending trip to Memphis and the Sweet 16 wasn't the only good news on Sunday.
In an interview with Syracuse Post Standard writer Bud Poliquin, Flynn was asked the question that all of Syracuse has been waiting on pins and needles to hear.
Will you be returning for your junior year? Flynn responded, "I'm coming back to Syracuse next year, I'm coming back. There is no as of now, I'm coming back."
With only one senior on the team in reserve PF Kristof Ongenaet leaving, a stellar recruiting class coming in, the return of former starting guard Scoop Jardine, and the addition of transfer power forward Wes Johnson, to say Syracuse will be loaded next season is like saying the economy is in a slump.
But let's stay focused on the upcoming game against Oklahoma. Hopefully we will have all summer to dream about how Orange can repeat and win another national championship in 2010.