They did it again.
The Orange are in the Sweet 16 as a double-digit seed for the second time in three years after upsetting third-seeded Michigan State 55-53 Sunday night.
Despite having to play in the play-in game this year, Syracuse showed why it is still considered a powerhouse as it looks like it has what it takes to get back to another Final Four like the program did in 2016, before falling to eventual national champion North Carolina.
Tyus Battle had 17 points, Oshae Brissett scored 15, and 11th-seeded Syracuse zoned Michigan State out of the tournament.
“No one plays zone like we do,” Brissett said. “We’re always moving — and we challenge every shot — so teams never get easy looks against us. That’s why nothing surprises me with our defense.”
Syracuse (23-13) will face second-seeded Duke (28-7) on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinals.
Playing in his hometown with a chance to add another highlight-reel shot to this year’s NCAA Tournament, Cassius Winston missed an opportunity to win the game for the third-seeded Spartans with a shot from mid-court at the buzzer.
“It’s one of those shots you shoot as a kid,” he said softly. “I just came up short.”
The Spartans came up short, long and wide all afternoon and didn’t make a basket in the last 5:41.
The Orange forced the Spartans (30-5) to settle for 3-pointers all afternoon and it worked brilliantly in a duel between Hall of Fame coaches. Michigan State took a school record 37 shots beyond the arc, making just eight.
“The last couple of jump shots they threw up, they weren’t in the ballpark,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim.
Syracuse has won three straight since being sent to Dayton for the First Four as what the selection committee chairman acknowledged was the final team to receive an at-large bid. In low-scoring games, the Orange beat Arizona State in Dayton and TCU in the first round. They overcame playing three games in five days and essentially playing a road game, matching up with Michigan State about 75 miles from its campus with green-and-white clad fans packing the stands.
As poorly as Michigan State shot, it had chances to escape with a victory.
Miles Bridges missed a 3 with a chance to tie with 11 seconds left and teammate Joshua Langford missed a putback, but Syracuse turned the ball over with 7.9 seconds left.
The Orange fouled intentionally to avoid giving up a game-tying 3 twice in the closing seconds and the Spartans made two pairs of free throws to pull within a point both times.
“We’re always going to foul in those situations and it’s always worked for us,” Boeheim said. “I’ve seen too many guys when the guy makes a 3 and it goes into overtime.”
Paschal Chukwu connected on one free throw with 2.4 seconds left and the miss gave Michigan State a chance to win in dramatic fashion, but Winston couldn’t pull it off.