PITTSBURGH — Syracuse was missing its starting center. The University of North Carolina at Asheville thought the Orange got help from three men in striped shirts.
With Syracuse facing the kind of NCAA Tournament history no team wants to make, the top-seeded Orange rallied for a 72-65 victory Thursday in the second round of the East Regional.
Two calls by the officials had the sellout crowd of 18,927 at Consol Energy Center – except for those wearing orange – booing throughout the final minute.
Syracuse made it 109-0 for No. 1 seeds against No. 16s since the NCAA went to a field of 64 in 1985.
“I don’t think luck had anything to do with this game today,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said, “and I think the better team won.”
The Orange were staring at NCAA Tournament history. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, and they were trailing with just over 6 minutes to play.
“We gave it everything we had. We battled the best that we could,” UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said. “These guys are great. They deserved a better fate than they had today.”
Syracuse, which won the national championship in 2003, had already made negative history in the tournament, becoming the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 when it fell 73-69 to Richmond in 1991.
Syracuse was playing without 7-foot center Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for academic reasons.
Syracuse (32-2) will play Kansas State in the third round on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (24-10), who talked Wednesday about pulling off the upset, were led by J.P. Primm’s 18 points.
The first call that caused the crowd to react was a lane violation with 1:20 left. Scoop Jardine missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but Primm was called for passing the head of the key before Jardine let the shot go. Jardine got to shoot the front end again, made it, and made the second for a 64-58 lead.
With 35 seconds left and the Orange leading 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse’s Brandon Triche but the officials pointed the other way and gave it to the Orange. Jardine made two free throws a second later.