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No. 1 Syracuse avoids upset loss to UNC Asheville

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim looks on during

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim looks on during a break of play against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs. (March 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

PITTSBURGH -- It was the sort of early-round near-upset that usually leaves everyone feeling warm and cuddly, from the scrappy (if disappointed) underdogs to the relieved winners to the appreciative crowd.

Not this time.

After Thursday's NCAA East Regional second-round game between Syracuse and North Carolina Asheville, both coaches were defiant, one team was angry and most fans left CONSOL Energy Center after loudly booing the officials.

What was decided? That top-seeded Syracuse (32-2) would advance to meet Kansas State Saturday, thanks to a 72-65 victory over 16th-seeded Asheville (24-10). Beyond that, everything was a matter of opinion.

"Syracuse is better than Asheville," said the losing coach, Eddie Biedenbach. "Tonight, we were better than Syracuse."

When a reporter tried to get Syracuse players to respond to that quote, coach Jim Boeheim cut them off and said flatly, "That's why they make scoreboards."

Such was the tone of bitterness on both sides -- Asheville believing it had been denied a fair chance for the biggest upset in tournament history and Syracuse believing the validity of its victory was being unfairly questioned.

None of it changed the bottom line: Syracuse extended the record of No. 1 seeds against No. 16s to 109-0 after trailing by seven points late in the first half and 34-30 at halftime.

Feel lucky to have escaped, Coach? "I don't think luck had anything to do with this game," Boeheim said. "I think the better team won."

Playing without starting center Fab Melo, who is ineligible, Syracuse had four players score in double digits, led by James Southerland, who scored 15 off the bench, 13 in the second half.

J.P. Primm had 18 for Asheville, which was hurt by 1-for-13 shooting from Matt Dickey, the Big South Player of the Year.

Asheville's frustration began to mount early in the second half, when it appeared the officials missed a goaltending violation by Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas. But things would get much more contentious.

With 1:20 left and Syracuse leading 62-58, Scoop Jardine was at the line for a one-and-one. He missed the first, and the Bulldogs rebounded. But Primm was called for a lane violation, and given another chance, Jardine made two free throws.

Biedenbach was so angry, he had to be held back by an assistant as he jawed at an official during the next timeout.

Game official Ed Corbett said in a pool report, "It was a clear violation. The player released early, before the ball hit the rim. We've since watched the replay 20 times and it was the right call.''

Syracuse led 66-63 with 34.8 seconds left when Brandon Triche appeared to lose an inbounds pass out of bounds. The officials awarded Syracuse the ball. Soon Jardine was making two free throws to put Syracuse ahead by five.

"That's not reviewable, and it is not a play that we would discuss ,'' Corbett said.

Boeheim conceded the officials perhaps had gotten the out-of-bounds call wrong but said Triche was pushed from behind. "Maybe they missed the out of bounds, but they missed the foul call,'' he said. "Those things even out.''

Most in the crowd of 18,927 did not agree, booing loudly after both controversial plays.

"That big replay machine up on top [of the arena], you heard the crowd reaction," Biedenbach said. "If you can evaluate the crowd, can you get 18,600 answers for that question?''

Primm also struck a glancing blow at the officials, saying, "It's tough sometimes when everybody else wants you to win because you're supposed to win. I mean, tough calls down the stretch. But it's over. We can't change it.''

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