PITTSBURGH — Syracuse had a lot bigger problems than missing its starting center.
The Orange were staring at NCAA tournament history. A No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, and they were trailing North Carolina-Asheville with just over 6 minutes to play.
Led by reserve forward James Southerland, Syracuse rallied for a 72-65 victory over the Bulldogs on Thursday in the second round of the East Regional.
The sellout crowd of 18,927— except for those wearing Orange — were solidly behind the underdogs throughout the second half and they were irate over the final 2 minutes with calls that went against the Bulldogs.
Syracuse, which won the national championship in 2003, had already made negative history in the tournament, becoming the first No. 2 seed to lose to a 15 when it fell 73-69 to Richmond in 1991.
The Orange managed to avoid adding another black mark by holding Asheville to one field goal over the final minute while they went 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
Syracuse (32-2) will play eighth-seeded Kansas State in the third round on Saturday at the Consol Energy Center. The Wildcats beat Southern Mississippi 70-64.
The Bulldogs (24-10), who had talked Wednesday of becoming the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1, were led by J.P. Primm’s 18 points.
They led 34-30 at halftime — the third 16 to do that — but the Orange took the lead for good with 6:17 left on a turnaround jumper by Southerland.
The Bulldogs got within three points three times in the final 1:04 but could get no closer as Syracuse made its free throws and the officials made a couple of controversial calls.
Southerland had 15 points and a season-high eight rebounds for the Orange, who finished 5 of 23 from 3-point range, including missing 17 of their first 20 from behind the arc.
The first call that caused the crowd to react was a lane violation with 1:20 left. Scoop Jardine of Syracuse missed the front end of a 1-and-1 but Asheville was called for entering the lane too soon. Jardine got to shoot the front end again, made it, and made the second for a 64-58 lead.
With 35 seconds left and the Orange leading 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse’s Brandon Triche but the officials pointed the other way and gave it to the Orange. Jardine made two free throws a second later for a 68-63 lead.
Coordinator of Officiating John Adams said he would have given the ball to UNC Asheville on the inbounds play.
Inexplicably the Orange kept shooting 3-pointers and missing. Despite having a huge height advantage — Asheville’s talllest starter was 6-foot-5, bigger only than the Syracuse guards — the Orange kept taking 3s against the Bulldogs’ 2-3 zone, which isn’t as well known as the one Syracuse has played for decades but was just as effective Thursday.
The height advantage didn’t do much for the Orange as far as rebounding went either as they had 33, one more than the Bulldogs. Then again, Syracuse was outrebounded by its opponents for the season.
Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters both had 12 points for Syracuse, which played its fourth game this season without the 7-foot Melo, the Big East defensive player of the year who missed three games in January over academic issues. The Orange are 3-1 without him.
Jaron Lane added 16 points and Jeremy Atkinson had 12 for the Bulldogs, whose leading scorer, Matt Dickey, went 1 for 13 from the field, 1 of 9 from 3. Asheville went 9 of 23 from beyond the arc.
It was the third time a 16th seed led a No. 1 at halftime. Fairfield was ahead of North Carolina 35-28 in 1997, and Holy Cross led Kansas 37-35 in 2002. The Tar Heels went on to win 82-74 and the Jayhawks won 70-59.
There have been two one-point wins by No. 1s over 16s — Georgetown over Princeton and Oklahoma over East Tennessee State, both in 1989. And there was one two-point game — Purdue over Western Carolina in 1996 — and one that went overtime — Michigan State 75-71 over Murray State in 1990.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim earned his 46th win in the NCAA tournament, breaking a tie with Bob Knight for seventh on the career list.