Cincinnati holds off Syracuse in Big East semis
New York, NY (Sports Network) - Sean Kilpatrick and Yancy Gates each scored 18 points, and Cincinnati held off second-ranked Syracuse, 71-68, in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.
It was the second time in as many days Cincinnati knocked off a ranked opponent. Cincinnati (24-9), coming off a 72-70 double-overtime win over 13th- ranked Georgetown in the quarterfinals on Thursday, scored the game's first seven points against the Orange and never trailed.
Still, it was a dramatic finish, this despite the Bearcats nearly blowing a 17-point lead.
Dion Waiters, who had 28 points and went 7-of-10 from beyond the arc, drained a three with 17.1 seconds left to get the top-seeded Orange (31-2) within 68-66.
JaQuon Parker then made 1-of-2 free throws at the other end, but Cincinnati's Cashmere Wright fouled Waiters before he could get off a tying three-point try. Waiters made both shots, but Justin Jackson was alone at the other end of the floor for the game-sealing jam with a second left.
Dion Dixon and Wright each had 11 points for the fourth-seeded Bearcats, who will face No. 7 seed Louisville in the title game Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. It will be first appearance in a Big East final for the Bearcats.
Despite the loss, Syracuse will still likely get a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament when the field is disclosed Sunday night.
"Cincinnati came out on fire," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We've got to do a better job at the guard position getting up on the shooters and contesting the shots better than what we did in the first half, and I think if we do that and continue to work hard on the defensive end, I think we'll be a lot better moving forward."
The Bearcats were a prolific 8-of-13 from three-point range in the first half and shot 50 percent overall. Kilpatrick knocked down all but one of his five long-distance shots and Wright was 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. In fact, Cincinnati made eight of its first 10 three-point shots.
Meanwhile, the Orange struggled by shooting 9-of-29 over the opening 20 minutes.
Syracuse, which gutted out a 60-53 road triumph over the Bearcats on Jan. 23, gave up the game's first seven points and trailed 25-8 following Wright's three-pointer with 10 1/2 minutes left in the half.
"We knew we'd come in here and we were going to have a good chance of winning," Gates said. "I didn't think we would be up that big at halftime, but I knew that we had a chance coming in here and beating Syracuse."
The Bearcats held a 35-23 lead at the break, but Syracuse used its pressure defense and nine made three-pointers in the second half to rally. A three from Waiters and a dunk by Fab Melo had the margin at 58-55 with 3:09 to go.
"That's been our motto the whole year, even when we get down," Waiters said. "We have faith in each other and we know at the end of the day we're going to win the game. Tonight we came up short, but it gives us a chance to go back to the drawing board and work that much more hard and get ready for the main goal at the end of the year."
But the Orange left Gates open at the other end for a leak-out jam, and after a turnover Dixon hit a layup and Kilpatrick knocked down what looked like the dagger - a three-ball from the left corner with 1:47 left.
The Orange had one last push against a team that came into the game as the worst free throw shooting team in the Big East, making 64.8 percent of their attempts. A poor performance from the charity stripe nearly cost the Bearcats.
Dixon and Parker both missed front ends of 1-and-1 attempts. Gates later made 1-of-2, leading to Waiters' three-ball and the 68-66 margin, but Cincy held on.
"I kept telling the guys in the timeouts, this is going to be a crazy ending and we're going to win by more than 10 because we got to break the press," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "I have seen them play. When they get behind, they're going to come. They're not going to sit back in that zone. They're going to come. So we did a pretty good job after our initial hesitation of attacking their pressure."
C.J. Fair had 11 rebounds and Melo contributed 11 points and eight rebounds for the Orange...Syracuse will become the third team in Big East history to enter the NCAA Tournament with just two losses (Georgetown 1985, Connecticut 1996)...Syracuse did not hold a lead in either of its two losses this season...Syracuse was making its sixth appearance in the Big East tourney as the No. 1 seed. The Orange have five Big East titles, none as the top seed.
03/09 23:33:08 ET