With five minutes left, Syracuse found themselves down four to Georgia Tech. With wins at Duke and at home against Notre Dame, this team should have been able to put away the Yellow Jackets long before now. That's when Malachi Richardson decided it was time to take over.
After being held scoreless in the first half, the freshman had started to heat up after the break, but scored eight of his 13 points from there to help the Orange escape with a 60-57 win Saturday afternoon. The win pulled Syracuse (15-8, 5-5) to .500 in league play for the first time this season.
Richardson knocked down two free throws with less than three seconds left to ice it. For a freshman, it was a tough place to be put in.
"Make 'em," Richardson said of what was going through his mind. "Each free throw, I didn't have any nervousness or anything like that. Make them in practice and make them all the time."
It was a back and forth battle throughout, with 10 ties and nine lead changes. Georgia Tech (12-9, 2-6) has played everyone tough this year, beating Virginia, and losing to Louisville and Pittsburgh by a combined nine points. Jim Boeheim went so far as to say the Yellow Jackets are one of the best teams in the lead, even if their record doesn't show it.
"The difference tonight, we made a couple plays on defense," Boeheim said. " Our defense was outstanding. It was a tremendous win because I really believe they are a difficult team to play against."
Maybe the brightest spot of the afternoon was the play of Franklin Howard, who finished with only one point, but dished out a game-high and a new career-high six assists.
"Frank Howard had some of the best passes I've seen here in years," Boeheim said. "When he stops shooting 10-foot floaters, he'll stay in the game.
"When I got out there I was just seeing everything really well today," Howard said. "I felt good out there, but no different than normal."
The Orange looked like they were going to pull away as the first half came to a close, leading 29-22, prompting Georgia Tech to call a timeout. The Jackets came out on a 7-0 run to tie it up and even pulled ahead in the final seconds of the half. Tyler Lydon nailed a three as the buzzer sounded to tie it up at 35 headed into the break.
Not long into the second half, Gbinije broke away with a steal, and driving to the basket hard, caught a thumb to the eye, which the refrees did not call a foul. He exited the game momentarily, but later said he felt fine. In the melee that insued, forcing a stoppage in play, during which the referees changed who had possession three times. The Carrier Dome really lived up to its nickname of "the Loudhouse" for the next several minutes, with fans voicing their displeasure.
In the end, when the dust settled, the Orange have kind of hit a reset with eight games remaining in the conference season. After starting 0-4 in the league and working their way up to .500 at this point has shown the heart of this team and the never say die attitude they play with.