The sighs were audible from the Syracuse fans. So were the complaints from those rooting for North Carolina-Asheville.
Another scare for a No. 1 seed against a lowly 16 was over. The Orange took the lead for good with about 6 minutes to go Thursday and then held on for a 72-65 victory in the second round of the East Regional.
The win made the No. 1s 109-0 since the field went to 64 teams in 1985. Nobody wants to be the team that starts that list. Least of all Syracuse, which was the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 when Richmond beat the Orange 73-69 in 1991.
The crowd of 18,927 at the Consol Energy Center — except those wearing orange — were cheering hard for the Bulldogs, the Big South Conference champions who were in the NCAA tournament for just the third time, all as a 16 seed.
"That always happens," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "If you're a high seed, the crowd gets going, the crowd is always going to switch to them. We lost one road game this year. We've been in some really noisy places when the crowd has not been with us. We've been in those games. We were in that game tonight. You know, it's not something that we haven't been able to handle, and we handled it tonight."
The Orange (32-2) were playing for the first time since starting center Fab Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, was ruled ineligible for the tournament over academics. Syracuse still had a size advantage without the 7-footer — Asheville's tallest starter was 6-5 — yet the Orange kept shooting 3-poiinters and kept missing. They missed 17 of their first 20 from beyond the arc and finished 5 of 23.
"We did not move the ball or attack the zone well," Boeheim said.
The Orange are famed for their 2-3 zone, a staple of the program for decades. Asheville (24-10) played the same thing Thursday and it worked.
"We just played a good 2-3 zone and mixed it up a little bit, playing man-to-man on one possession, zone on the other, just enough to try to keep 'em off balance," Bulldogs coach Eddie Biedenbach said.
But this game will be remembered for the final minutes when the officials made two calls that had the crowd booing and shouting.
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 there were those calls.
The first call that caused the crowd to react was a lane violation with 1:20 left. Syracuse's Scoop Jardine missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but J.P. 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.
"They gave me a second chance to make the shot and I made it," Jardine said. "I got myself into a rhythm. I made every free throw from there on out because I do what I practice and believed in myself at that time and made the shots for us."
Primm said: "They showed it on the replay, I think the crowd let him know that it wasn't the right call. ... Like I said, when it gets crunch time like that, like I say, everyone is human."
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.
"The out of bounds is not reviewable and it is not a play we would discuss," official Ed Corbett told a pool reporter. "I'm not going to comment further because it is a judgment call. It was a clear (lane) violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call."
Boeheim had his own take on the play with Triche.
"First of all, all the noise about the ball going out of bounds, I mean, Triche got pushed. That's why it went out of bounds," he said. "Maybe they missed the out of bounds, they missed the foul call. Those things equal out."
Not for 16s against No. 1s.
"It's tough when things don't go your way," said Primm, who led the Bulldogs with 18 points. "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 had talked Wednesday of making history.
"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."
Syracuse (32-2) will play eighth-seeded Kansas State in the third round on Saturday. The Wildcats (22-10) beat Southern Mississippi 70-64 behind Rodney McGruder's 30 points and the Jordan Henriquez's 15 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. Neil Watson led Southern Mississippi (25-9) with 16 points
In the other doubleheader, second-seeded Ohio State beat Loyola, Md. 78-59 and seventh-seeded Gonzaga defeated West Virginia 77-54.
Deshaun Thomas had a career-high 31 points for Ohio State (28-7), which dominated the Greyhounds inside, finishing with a 49-24 rebound advantage. Erik Etherly had 19 points for Loyola (24-9).
Gonzaga won its opening game in the tournament for the fourth straight year and it was the Bulldogs' second-largest margin of victory behind a 27-point win over Valparaiso in 2004. Robert Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. both had 14 points for Gonzaga (26-6). Kevin Jones had 13 points for the Mountaineers (19-14) in their worst NCAA loss under coach Bob Huggins.
Asheville led 34-30 at halftime but the Orange took the lead for good with 6:17 left on a turnaround jumper by reserve James Southerland, who had 15 points and a season-high eight rebounds.
Southerland, who scored 13 points in the second half, had three of the Orange's five 3-pointers.
"James came in, gave us a huge lift off the bench," Boeheim said of the 6-8 junior.
Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters both had 12 points for Syracuse, which played its fourth game this season without Melo, who missed three games in January over academic issues. The Orange are 3-1 without him.
"We (would) love to have him, but it's about us playing the game," Jardine said. "We got a lot of guys that stepped up today."
Jaron Lane added 16 points and Jeremy Atkinson had 12 for the Bulldogs, whose leading scorer, Matt Dickey, went 1 for 13 from the field, 1 of 9 from 3. Asheville went 9 of 23 from beyond the arc.
"The excitement of the game was crazy. It was March Madness at its finest," Dickey said. "It was awesome and we'll cherish this moment and the opportunity that we had, but we'll always look back at this moment and say we should have won or could have won, but that's not enough."
Boeheim earned his 46th win in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie with Bob Knight for seventh on the career list.