NCAA Men's Final Four 2016

Men's basketball season ends in Final Four

Syracuse beat the odds just to play its second No. 1 seed in as many games, but North Carolina's 11-point halftime lead was insurmountable.

Except for a few minutes in the second half Saturday night, Syracuse was unable to stop the high-powered North Carolina offense that ended the Orange's surprise championship run one game short as they fell 83-66.

Despite coming up one game shy, head coach Jim Boeheim said he was just as proud of this team as the 2003 Championship team.

Photo: Chase Guttman
Michael Gbinije walks by Jim Boeheim in what was their last game together.

“I’m more satisfied than I’ve ever been in any year that I’ve coached, with the possible exception the year we won it all,” he said. 

The game stayed close through the opening minutes, but missed shots and missed rebounds began to plague the Orange down the first half stretch.

Turnovers kept both teams on the run, constantly switching the court with both teams unable to secure shots. 

Syracuse turned the ball over seven times in the first half and UNC gave it up five times. In the second, Syracuse held on to the ball better, only giving it up three times compared to UNC’s seven, but defensive rebounds for the Tar Heels made the difference. 

UNC gathered up 27 defensive rebounds from missed Orange shots, allowing them to breakaway and capitalize on a slow-moving Orange defense. 

Rebounds also made the difference in the first, as it led to a 9-0 UNC run toward the middle of the half, when the Tar Heels were landing both shots and free throws after scooping up loose balls.

Syracuse’s DaJuan Coleman finally ended the streak and was followed by another basket from Malachai Richardson to bring the Orange within five. 

"They were getting some second and third chance points," freshman forward Malachi Richardson said. "It does get discouraging, but we played through it."

North Carolina started pulling away again though, capitalizing on Syracuse turnovers, going into the half up by 11. 

"Every time we thought we were going to go on a little run, they had an answer for it," freshman forward Tyler Lydonsaid. "It was just that type of a night."

In the second half, Syracuse was never able to fight its way back from the deficit -- only managing to get within seven points of the lead as every bucket was answered by UNC despite senior Trevor Cooney’s best efforts. 

Cooney helped lead an offensive turnaround for the Orange and was the team’s leading scorer on the night. He finished with 22 points, 18 of those in the second half. 

“We fought back to get within nine or 10, but we needed the press to work,” Cooney said after the game. “We weren’t able to make those plays.” 

Syracuse Fans - Final Four Games

Photos by Drew Osumi

Syracuse put on a full-court press after getting the score within seven, but it did little to stymie UNC’s scoring. 

Boeheim said he was skeptical of having the same success with a full-court press that the team had in other games given North Carolina’s offense, but ultimately decided there was no other option but to try. 

“I don’t think we could press this team. We were going to because that was the only way to get back in it,” he said. “You’ve got to try. There’s no sense in just losing by 12. You’ve got to try to get it back. It wasn’t a realistic expectation. If I did the statistical analysis of it, I would say our chances to press North Carolina were in the lower 10 percent range.” 

Syracuse finished the season, 23-14, an unlikely feat after the team gave up four games straight in December and January and another three games in a row just before the NCAA tournament selection.

The team battled back late in its Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games to make it to Saturday’s Final Four. Syracuse was the first-ever 10-seed to make it to the semifinal game. 

While the ending was tough, Cooney said he was proud of his teammates for accomplishing more than fans and the media ever thought possible. 

“I mean, coming into the tournament, we weren’t even supposed to be in there,” he said. “We just kept battling, kept fighting. You have to give credit to North Carolina. For us to beat them, we would’ve had to have played perfect and we just didn’t today.” 

Fellow senior Michael Gbinije echoed Cooney’s thoughts. The team’s leading scorer throughout the season, Gbinije finished with 17 points on the night before fouling out with a minute left in the game.

“I’m a little crushed right now,” he said after the game. “I think we left it all on the floor tonight. We just had a lot of people step up. DaJuan Coleman played big for us down the stretch. Malachai and Tyler Lydon were great for us all year. I’m just happy we were able to get this far.”

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