WASHINGTON -- It all boiled down to two words Thursday night: Elite Eight. That was the goal of all the teams in the NCAA East Regional semifinal, and when the boiling was done, there were two new key words: Big East.
Because Syracuse roasted, toasted and cooked top-seeded Indiana, 61-50, in the late game Thursday night, the Big East is guaranteed to have at least one team in the Final Four next weekend. Either fourth-seeded Syracuse or third-seeded Marquette will advance Saturday after their Elite Eight game (in a Big East arena, where Georgetown plays its home games).
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Consider it Syracuse's final gift to the conference it is leaving after this season. It carried the Big East banner with a flourish Thursday night, totally flummoxing the Big Ten regular-season champion with its zone and its revived offense.
Sophomore Michael Carter-Williams (whose house in Hamilton, Mass., burned down last week; no one was injured) scored a career-high 24 points, many of them in the face of Indiana star Victor Oladipo, considered one of the premier defenders in the country.
After the game, Carter-Williams went over to the part of the stands where his mother was sitting and gestured to her. "We've had to go through some tough times. I'm just trying to bring a smile to my family's face," he said. Of his mom, he added, "She's doing good. I was real happy to see her smiling and clapping on the sidelines. It couldn't be any better."
He said that during a game, "I'm not thinking about it. I'm just trying to focus. That's what my teammates deserve. It's tough, but they deserve all my attention and all my hard work."
Brandon Triche added 14 for Syracuse (29-9), getting a degree of payback for his uncle Howard, whose Syracuse team lost the 1987 national title game to Indiana -- the last time the teams met in the tournament before Thursday night.
Indiana (29-7) will not be in a hurry to play the Orange again, not after having 11 of its shots blocked and having the ball stolen 11 times.
The downside of March Madness and the attention it brings is that the sting of a defeat can carry into the next generation. Triche had been asked this week about a play that happened for his team before he was born.
Howard Triche was the unfortunate player who happened to be perhaps a split-second late in getting his hand up to defend Indiana's Keith Smart in the 1987 NCAA championship game. Smart hit the shot for the title and "Triche" became a buzzword for the painful defeat.
That sums up better than anything else what is at stake in this tournament. Make one mistake -- and possibly that wasn't even a mistake -- and it lives forever. Jim Boeheim, the coach then and now, admitted that he didn't get over that defeat until his team won the title game in 2003.
At least the younger Triche said that by the time he came to campus and began his own successful career, people were kind. "When his name came up, it was about him being in the community and being a great person," the senior guard said. "[They] never talked about Indiana and what happened."
None of that mattered Thursday night, of course, except for the fact that Syracuse still has the same general principles and same tough 2-3 zone. "It's what they're known for," said Indiana center Cody Zeller (11 points, 3-for-10 shooting). Said Indiana coach Tom Crean, "We've never seen a zone like that before."
"Our defense has been consistent all year," Boeheim said. "We've played better in the postseason because we've shot better, basically."