It's all over

A second half surge was not enough to propel Syracuse past Butler and to its first regional final since 2003.

 It was a season that transcended expectations.

A Syracuse team that started the year unranked after losing its top three scorers from a year ago took the college landscape by surprise, fusing into a basketball monstrosity before even entering the Big East schedule.

But a marvelous season had an inappropriately abrupt end, not the hallmark sendoff fans were hoping for.

Photo: Stephanie Campolo
IST junior Victor Nwosu reacts to the game as Syracuse trails Butler with only minutes left in Thursday's game in the NCAA Sweet 16 Tournament.

Matt Howard had a team-best 17 points and Shelvin Mack added 14 despite hitting only one of ten shots from behind the arc as the fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs (31-4) blazed past the Orange 63-59 in the West Regional semifinal.

Without starting center Arinze Onuaku for a third consecutive game, Syracuse (30-5) relied heavily on the Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Scoop Jardine trio that carried the load in the first two rounds. Johnson posted 17 points and nine rebounds, Rautins followed with 15 points of his own and Jardine put in 14 off the bench.

Their teammates forgot to join in.

Rick Jackson struggled for a third consecutive night from the floor without low post mate Onuaku. The junior scored just four points on two of five shooting, turned the ball over three times and collected four fouls.

Sixth Man of the Year candidate Kris Joseph, who sparked the team during the regular season with his dazzling athleticism and shifty driving ability, looked like he should’ve been buried further on the bench. He added six points on three of eight shooting, but appeared lost in the offensive sets much like he did in his freshman year.

Brandon Triche’s spotty shot selection and recklessness in transition set the Orange back further. The freshman looked the part. He had more turnovers, two, than made baskets, one.

A team that received balanced contributions from seven players throughout the year found itself prodding three to salvage the season. The same Syracuse team that frustrated opponents with its late-game poise crumbled down the stretch.  

Staunch Bulldogs defense compounded by a flustered Syracuse offense contributed to an eight minute stretch to open the game in which the Orange only managed three points. A bevy of unforced turnovers set the tone early as the usually poised Orange was noticeably unsteady. Syracuse would finish with just three more field goals than turnovers.

Down ten at halftime, Syracuse came out blistering in the second frame. The Orange opened on a 15 to four run to snatch a one point lead. The spurt was capped off by a Johnson three pointer giving Syracuse its first lead of the night.

Butler stormed back on an eight to three run of its own to grab a five point lead midway through the half. But the Orange clawed back as Rautins and Jardine got hot from outside. The pair connected on three consecutive outside shots and then Johnson and Joseph each added a bucket of their own to give Syracuse a 54 to 50 advantage, its largest lead of the game.  

With five minutes to play, five months of splendid Syracuse basketball vanished into the doldrums of a late March meltdown. The Bulldogs, poised to prolong a tournament trend of midmajor success and Big East catastrophe, went on an 11-0 run to squash the Orange.

Willie Veasley hit a three with less than two minutes to go that extended a one point Butler lead to four. The shot, which used every part of the rim and a carom off the backboard, put a dagger in the heart of the Orange, which had battled back all game

The game fittingly ended on a Syracuse turnover, sending the Orange home for the second consecutive year in the Sweet 16. Syracuse’s 59 points tied a season-low for points scored. The Orange scored 59 points in a win at DePaul back in January.

Syracuse is the second No. 1-seed to drop to a midmajor. Kansas lost to Northern Iowa 69-67 in the second round of the Midwest Region.

The loss marks the end of the careers for seniors Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku. Wes Johnson is expected to declare for the NBA Draft, although he has one year of eligibility remaining.

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