Here we go again.
James Southerland provided an offensive jolt with 15 points and Rakeem Christmas filled in for Fab Melo well on both ends, but the story remains with the people on the floor not wearing a basketball uniform.
"Syracuse is better than Asheville, but tonight Asheville was the better team," said Bulldogs Coach Eddie Biedenbach.
There was a missed travel here, a goaltend there, and ticky-tack fouls throughout the game – but with just over 30 seconds to play, Brandon Triche appeared to touch a loose ball last that ended up out of bounds.
"The ref said it wasn't (out on him), I haven't seen it," Triche said with a laugh. "I know I touched it, but I don't know who touched it last."
"They showed the replay, and the crowd let the official know, that I don't think it was the right call…It just took the air out of us, just like the non-goaltending call," said UNC-A senior J.P. Primm, who scored a game-high 18 points. "When you play so hard, and a call doesn't go your way, it takes the air out of you.
"And it did."
It appeared as if Triche was last to touch the ball, but it also appeared as if he was hit hard before the controversial call been happened. There was no call there, either.
So with the calls questionable at best on both sides, the Orange rallied from a 7-point deficit to beat the Bulldogs 72-65. Calls made it controversial, but free throws sealed the deal.
Scoop Jardine, who entered play as a 49 percent shooter from the stripe, hit two pairs of free throws – one before Triche's play and one after – all with less than 80 seconds to play. The last two virtually put the game away with 34 seconds left. But in the first pair of shots, Jardine was granted another chance because of a lane violation during a shot he missed from the line.
"First of all, I want to thank the ref for giving me an extra chance to shoot the free throws," Jardine said soon after the win. "It was a great call."
The early portion of the game was much different, as Asheville caught Syracuse off guard with tenacious play on both ends and a zone that made the Orange look pedestrian.
As Cincinnati planned to do in Syracuse's last game, the Bulldogs came out shooting the three over the 2-3 zone. It worked, as they converted three of their first seven shots from long distance. Their fourth make from three-point land put UNCA up 21-17 on Syracuse as Jaron Lane converted a long one plus the foul.
Dion Waiters went on a 5-0 mini run all by himself soon after to re-capture the lead for SU at 22-21, but the Bulldogs would seize control for the rest of the half soon after.
Quinard Jackson made back-to-back layups to get UNCA back on top, and they held the lead for the rest of the half although just five shots were made in the last 6:28 – when the Bulldogs went into the break with a 34-30 lead.
Syracuse looked a bit more active after the break, especially Jardine.
The senior point guard scored seven points in the first five minutes to put the orange back on top 41-40 during an 11-6 run, but it became a back-and-fourth contest the rest of the way.
Primm and the Bulldogs, who shot 9 of 23 from long range, would continue to keep the pressure on the Orange at both ends of the floor. Coming out of a mid-second half timeout, he nailed an open three on two different possessions in less than a 90-second span. The latter gave UNC-A their second-to-last lead of the game.
Jeremy Atkinson gave the Big South Conference Champions their final lead with 10:50 to play, before all the controversy began.
The Orange rallied once more, and Southerland was the driving force this time. He made a trio of three pointers on a night when SU hit just 2 of 17 otherwise, and the final long range shot put the top seed ahead for good.
"Every game is a new game and I never think about the past, "said Southerland, who was up-and-down all season from distance. "Every other shot is going in for me."
"We become a better offensive team with James (Southerland) in there, especially when he's making shots like he did today," said Jardine. "You spread the floor, and you've got to guard him.
"It opens it up for a lot of people, and that's what it did today."
The free throws, Southerland's shooting and Christmases intangibles shut the door for UNC-Asheville.
The freshman center ended up with six points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a critical steal near the end of the game.
Even with the effort, SU Coach Jim Boeheim admitted that the play of the big men wasn't the most critical part of the game.
"This game had nothing to do with the center position," said Boeheim.