Chicago — Malachi Richardson and Syracuse scrapped and fought their way from the bubble to the Final Four.
Richardson scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, and Syracuse extended its improbable run with a 68-62 victory over top-seeded Virginia on Sunday.
The Orange were among the last teams to get into the NCAA Tournament after a rough closing stretch, but slipped in as a 10 seed before storming to its first Final Four since 2013 and No. 6 overall. It comes at the end of a challenging season for coach Jim Boeheim, who was suspended for nine games as the result of an NCAA investigation.
“It was a whole team effort and these guys really deserve it,” Boeheim said. “We beat a great basketball team. I’ve never been prouder in all my 40 years as coach of a basketball team as I am of this team tonight.”
Syracuse (23-13), which trailed by 16 at the start of the second half, becomes the first 10 seed to make it to the Final Four and just the fourth double-digit seed to accomplish the feat. It’s the lowest seeded team to reach the national semifinals since VCU in 2011, according to STATS.
Michael Gbinije and freshman Tyler Lydon each scored 11 points for the Orange, who will face the winner of the East Regional final between North Carolina and Notre Dame on Saturday in Houston. Tyler Roberson finished with 10 points and eight rebounds.
“We worked so hard,” Gbinije said. “We’ve been through a lot.”
London Perrantes scored 15 of his 18 points in the first half for Virginia (29-8), which blew a 16-point lead in the second half. Malcolm Brogdon, the ACC player of the year, had 12 points on 2-of-14 shooting in the final game of his Cavaliers career.
Syracuse trailed 54-39 before it ripped off 25 of the next 29 points, including 15 in a row. And Richardson led the way, often taking the ball right at Brogdon.
Richardson’s driving layup made it 59-58 Orange with 5:47 remaining for their first lead since early in the first half. After Perrantes missed a long 3, Richardson connected from deep and smiled as he ran up the court while making circles around his eyes with his hands.
“I started slow, I had a couple of bad turnovers and Coach got on me at halftime,” Richardson said. “I knew I had to pick it up for my teammates. We were down, and I just wanted to come back and we did it.”
The confident freshman, who scored 21 points in Syracuse’s first-round win against Dayton, added another layup for his seventh straight point before Anthony Gill stopped Virginia’s drought with a basket inside.
The Cavaliers had a chance to tie in the final seconds after Gbinije went 1 for 2 at the line. But Devon Hall missed a 3-point attempt and Lydon and DaJuan Coleman combined for three free throws to close it out for the Orange.
Syracuse also trailed in the regional semifinal against Gonzaga, erasing a nine-point deficit in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
Virginia, which beat Syracuse 73-65 on Jan. 24, shot 35.7 percent in the second half. Gill and Mike Tobey finished with 10 points apiece.
Richardson went 6 for 16 from the field and 8 for 9 at the line. The 6-foot-6 forward, who was voted the most outstanding player of the region, also had seven rebounds.
“This is a dream come true for me,” he said.
Bouncing back from a jittery start, Virginia grabbed control with a 19-2 run in the first half. Perrantes sparked the turnaround with two straight 3-pointers and Darius Thompson finished it off with a circus layup on the break, making it 21-10 with 6:33 left and drawing an “ooohhh” from the crowd of 20,155.
Despite a memorable play from Lydon — the freshman lost his left shoe and threw it off to the side before draining a 3 — the Orange shot 30.8 percent from the field in the first half and trailed 35-21 at the break.
East Regional final
North Carolina 88, Notre Dame 74: Brice Johnson had 25 points and 12 rebounds as theTar Heels reached the Final Four for a record 19th time and the first since 2009, when they won the last of their five national championships.
North Carolina (32-6) will face Syracuse, the 10th seed from the Midwest Regional, in another all-Atlantic Coast Conference matchup in the Final Four on Saturday in Houston. The Orange beat top-seeded Virginia 68-62.
The halves were very different. In the first, the teams went shot for shot with both teams shooting over 58 percent and neither leading by more than six points.
The second half was run for run and the Tar Heels, taking control of the boards, had the last and biggest one to seize control over the final 10 minutes.
“They made a great run and we made a great run right back at them,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “These guys were phenomenal. It’s a fine feeling right now.”
It was Johnson’s school-record 23rd double-double of the season.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said of the Final Four. “It took us four years to do this, but we’re finally there.”
Marcus Paige added 13 points and Joel Berry II had 11 points and eight assists for North Carolina, which has won its four tournament games by an average of 15.4 points. The Tar Heels finished with a 32-15 rebound advantage, including 13-5 on the offensive end.
Demetrius Jackson had 26 points and V.J. Beacham had 18 for sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-12).
“I thought we put ourselves in position,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “You have to give credit to North Carolina. We took that one-point lead and they answered it like men.
“They’re really playing well. I think they’re playing the best of anyone left. I thought the way they answered that run was championship level,” he said.
The teams split their games in the regular season. Notre Dame won 80-76 at home and the Tar Heels prevailed 78-47 in the ACC Tournament semifinals just two weeks ago. Notre Dame has made just one Final Four in 1978.
The second half Sunday seemed like it was going be like the ACC Tournament game in which the Tar Heels used a 24-0 run to take control.
This time, a 12-0 run that gave the Tar Heels a 63-52 lead with 9:19 to play. North Carolina showed its depth in the run with the final eight points coming from reserves Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson.
North Carolina opened the second half with an 8-2 run and Kennedy Meeks scoring all the Tar Heels’ points down low. Notre Dame answered with 12 straight points. During that run, Johnson was charged with a technical foul for throwing the ball high in the air after he was called for a foul.
But that’s when the Tar Heels, with Johnson on the bench, took off.
After an incredible first half in which both teams played about as well as they could offensively, North Carolina led 43-38.
Both teams shot better than 58 percent from the field and from 3-point range. In one stretch, North Carolina went 4 minutes without missing.
It was the third half this tournament that North Carolina shot better than 60 percent — the second half against Providence and the first half against Indiana. It was the eighth time the Tar Heels did it this season.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams went to a 1-3-1 zone for a while trying to slow down the Fighting Irish from 3-point range. They made five of their first eight from beyond the arc and finished 6 for 10 for the half.
North Carolina was 16 for 25 from the field (64 percent) and 4 from 6 on 3s, while the Fighting Irish were 14 for 24 from the field (58.3 percent).