No. 16 UNC-Asheville nearly upsets No. 1 Syracuse

PITTSBURGH (AP) — North Carolina-Asheville had a chance for history. NCAA Tournament history.

With just over 6 minutes to play, the Bulldogs were tied with Syracuse. They were trying to become the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1. Their zone defense was working. Their height disadvantage wasn’t a factor. They had a sellout crowd solidly behind them.

It didn’t happen.

Syracuse held off the Bulldogs for a 72-65 victory Thursday night in the second round of the East Regional.

The fans were livid over two calls made by the officials in the final 1:20 that cost Asheville the chance at history.

The Bulldogs were stoic in their locker room after the game, saying all the right things but letting everybody know how they felt.

“It’s tough when things don’t go your way,” said J.P. Primm, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points and was involved in the first of the two controversial calls. “In college basketball, sometimes you have to play everybody in the building, you know. But I feel like that at that point in time the crowd definitely got behind us. Because, you know, everyone loves to see a 16 beat a 1. It didn’t happen tonight.”

There was no talk of moral victories, not from a team that talked Wednesday of pulling off the upset.

“You know, we’re not satisfied. We came in the game to win,” Primm said. “Like I said, I personally felt like the better team didn’t win tonight. That’s my opinion.”

The two calls had the sellout crowd of 18,927 at Consol Energy Center — except for those wearing orange — booing throughout the final minute but it didn’t matter.

Syracuse made it 109-0 for No. 1 seeds against 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 Bulldogs (24-10) had a shot at the historic win.

“We gave it everything we had. We battled the best that we could,” 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.

The Orange managed to avoid adding another black mark by holding Asheville to one field goal over the final minute while they went 6-of-7 from the free-throw line.

Syracuse was playing without 7-foot center Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for academic reasons by the school and will miss the tournament.

The Bulldogs got within three points three times in the final 1:04 but could get no closer as Syracuse made its free throws and the officials made a couple of controversial calls.

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.

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