The (Tobacco) Road To The Final Four: Gillon, Syracuse Stay Alive


Syracuse scored a huge victory over Duke to help its NCAA résumé. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech suffered a major setback with its loss to NC State.


It hasn’t been the easiest of seasons for Jim Boeheim, but it’s certainly been memorable.

The head coach who says his last season on the sideline will be the 2017-18 campaign saw his Orange score an absolutely crucial victory on Wednesday night at the Carrier Dome, as John Gillon hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to claim a 78-75 win over No. 10 Duke in front of 30,331 spectators.

And it could not have come at a better time.

The Orange had followed up a five-game win streak that put them squarely in the NCAA Tournament conversation with a three-game skid that made a signature victory over the Blue Devils a necessary piece to their NCAA résumé. Following a loss last Sunday night at Georgia Tech, the ‘Cuse were 8-7 in ACC play and likely needing to hit the 10-win mark in the league, especially with non-conference losses to St. John’s, UConn and Georgetown. While they do close out the season with a rematch at home against Georgia Tech, the Orange have a road trip to Louisville on Sunday. That’s a difficult test, especially facing a salty Rick Pitino-led squad that is coming off of a loss at UNC on Wednesday.

So getting a home win over the Blue Devils was so huge for Boeheim’s squad. Sure, the ‘Cuse can go on a run in the ACC Tournament to solidify its NCAA chances—and don’t overlook such a scenario (see: last year’s Final Four run for an Orange squad that arguably didn’t deserve to be in The Dance). But taking care of business at home, which is what the team has been able to do for the most part in league play, was vital on Wednesday evening.

“This team fights,” Boeheim told reporters after the game. “They do what they can do to come back. They keep battling. It’s been a fight all year long.”

Syracuse G John Gillon was the hero for the Orange this past Wednesday. (Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

Gillon, who hit a 3-pointer three weeks ago at the buzzer to force overtime in a win at NC State en route to a career-high 43 points, has fought through an up and down 2016-17 campaign as a graduate transfer from Colorado State. He combined for 18 points in the latest two losses to Louisville and Georgia Tech, as he endured one of his worst shooting nights of the season against the Yellow Jackets. In fact, the offense looked more fluid against GT when backup Frank Howard was on the floor, as he put together a few solid performances in a row after struggling much of the year. However, Boeheim maintained that Gillon has been his best option at the point. He’s been right.

While Gillon is not the prototypical point guard that Boeheim has recruited in the past, he has been the best option at the position this season for the Orange. And his latest performance could not have come at a better time following a seven-point, five-turnover, hesitant effort in Atlanta. Against Duke, he finished with a game-high 26 points and was 7 of 9 from the floor after the break, including the layup with 37 seconds left that tied the score for the final time at 75. He has also made 43 consecutive free throws, which is a school record.

Syracuse, whose three straight losses all came by six points or fewer, needed another signature victory to go along with its two Top-10 wins. Behind his battle-tested veteran PG, Boeheim notched it on a special night in the Carrier Dome.

ACC Standings

North Carolina 24-5, 12-3
Louisville 22-6, 10-5
Duke 22-6, 10-5
Florida State 22-6, 10-5
Notre Dame 21-7, 10-5
Miami 19-8, 9-6
Syracuse 17-12, 9-7
Virginia Tech 19-8, 8-7
Virginia 18-9, 8-7
Georgia Tech 16-12, 7-8
Wake Forest 16-12, 7-9
Pitt 15-13, 4-11
Clemson 14-13, 4-11
NC State 15-14, 4-12
Boston College 9-19, 2-13

If the regular season ended today, this would be how the ACC Tournament would set up.

Tuesday, March 7

Wake Forest and F John Collins may need to go on an ACC Tournament run to earn an NCAA berth. (Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

Clemson vs. Pitt
Georgia Tech vs. Boston College
Wake Forest vs. NC State

Wednesday, March 8
Virginia vs. Virginia Tech
Clemson/Pitt vs. Duke
Georgia Tech/Boston College vs. Syracuse
Wake Forest/NC State vs. Miami

Thursday, March 9
North Carolina vs. Virginia/Virginia Tech
Louisville vs. Clemson/Pitt/Duke
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech/Boston College/Syracuse
Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest/NC State/Miami

…Georgia Tech’s home loss to NC State on Tuesday night was a killer for its NCAA Tournament résumé. The Yellow Jackets entered the matchup coming off of a win over Syracuse on Sunday night, and the quick turnaround appeared to really affect the Jackets. GT has been strong at home for most of the season, but star big man Ben Lammers looked fatigued, going just 1 of 9 from the field. The nation’s second-leading shot blocker played the entire game against the Orange and was largely ineffective against the Wolfpack. Additionally, the Jackets just couldn’t get their shots to fall. In particular, their layups weren’t going down, which had to really frustrate Pastner. GT now has to travel to No. 21 Notre Dame on Saturday, which is a tough matchup for a team whose NCAA hopes are dwindling. The last time these two teams met, Josh Okogie hit the game-winning layup as time expired to help put Georgia Tech on the bubble. The Yellow Jackets will then host Pitt on Tuesday before closing the regular season at Syracuse on March 4. NC State was just 9-25 in the ACC over the last two seasons, and head coach Mark Gottfried is finishing out his tenure after being fired. So it was a crippling loss for the Yellow Jackets’ NCAA hopes. Can they score another upset over ND? If not, it could be NIT City for the Jackets.

…Wake Forest big man John Collins is a beast. Over his last 11 games, he is averaging 24 points on 67 percent shooting to go along with 11 rebounds. Earlier in the week I argued that he is the most underappreciated star player in the nation.

…Raycom Sports will begin airing a new television show on Saturday titled “A Cut Above: The Legacy of New York City Basketball and the ACC.” The ACC Tournament has a rich history, as does New York City basketball. The league’s tourney is being contested in New York for the first time, so this show retraces the roots of these two institutions. Host and ACC Network talent Cory Alexander joins ACC legends Charlie Scott (North Carolina), Bobby Cremins and Kenny Anderson (Georgia Tech) and Julius Hodge (NC State) at a barbershop in Harlem to discuss basketball in New York. Included is how former North Carolina coach Frank McGuire began the “subway system” for New York basketball talent to Chapel Hill, which helped serve as the start of the ACC-NYC connection. The show will be in syndication from February 25 until March 6. In addition, “A Cut Above” will air on ESPNU on Feb. 27 at Noon, Feb. 28 at 6:00 p.m., March 1 at 9:00 a.m. and March 2 at 3:00 p.m. The 2017 ACC Tournament will be held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center from March 7-11.

Saturday’s best game

No. 10 Duke at Miami, 4 p.m. ET, CBS: The Blue Devils will be trying to put behind their buzzer-beating loss to Syracuse on Wednesday night, which ended the team’s long win streak. Duke, however, is still one of the most dangerous teams in the country despite its ACC regular season title chances taking a big hit with that loss. Miami, meanwhile, is playing very good basketball. And the Hurricanes will be getting Ja’Quan Newton (15.0 points per game) back from a three-game suspension for violating team rules. Keep in mind that the ‘Canes beat Virginia on the road without his services. It’s tough to go against Miami at home, but look for Duke to rebound in a thriller. Grayson Allen, who has been in a funk, will get back to his aggressive ways to lead the victory.

Here’s your ACC play—no, moment—of the week:

Enjoy the weekend hoops action!

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