Michael Periatt / Asst. sports editor
PITTSBURGH – UNC-Asheville, the NCAA Tournament East Region’s No. 16-seed, flirted with history on Thursday against No. 1-seed Syracuse, but fell short.
As if the occasion wasn’t already a memorable one, the coaches of the two teams addressed the media after the game and vented their emotions.
UNC-Asheville (24-10) led Syracuse (32-2) for long stretches of a second-round NCAA Tournament game at CONSOL Energy Center, but lost, 72-65. Several disputed calls in the late stages of the game directly resulted in turnovers or points for the Orange to help sink the Bulldogs.
Syracuse advances to a Saturday third-round match against Kansas State. The No. 8-seed Wildcats defeated No. 9-seed Southern Miss, 70-64, in the first game.
With the backing of many of the 18,927 in attendance, UNC-Asheville took a 34-30 lead into halftime thanks to 50 percent shooting from the field in the opening 20 minutes. The Orange also saw their 16th-seeded opponent knock five 3-pointers down and hit 7-of-7 attempts from the free-throw line.
UNC-Asheville senior guard J.P. Primm finished the second-round matchup with a game-high 18 points.
Syracuse charged back with fewer than 10 minutes to play, and took the lead for good with fewer than six minutes remaining. In the closing moments, the Bulldogs were called for a lane violation after a missed free-throw by Syracuse junior guard Brandon Triche.
In a later play, replay showed that Triche knocked a ball out of bounds near the Bulldogs bench, but the ball was awarded to the Orange.
After time expired, UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach did not directly comment on the officiating, but hinted at his displeasure with the calls that went against his team.
“I don’t want to comment on officiating,” Biedenbach said. “I think to answer your question best – that big replay machine up on top. You heard the crowd reaction. I liked the crowd tonight. I thought they were great. If you can evaluate the crowd, can you get 18,600 answers for that question?”
About an hour after the game, game official Ed Corbett released a statement about both the lane violation and out of bounds plays in question.
“No, (the out of bounds play is not reviewable,” Corbett said, “and it is not a play that we would discuss (with one another). I’m not going to comment further on that because it is a judgement call.
The (lane violation) 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.”
Biedenbach also said he contended that UNC-Asheville was the better of the two teams in the game.
“I thought we played better than Syracuse tonight,” he said.
Orange coach Jim Boeheim disagreed and said his team earned the victory.
“Luck had nothing to do with (the win),” Boeheim said.