PITTSBURGH - When he looked at what Norfolk State did to Missouri and what Lehigh did to Duke, the tournament-opening scare Thursday that Syracuse got from UNC Asheville didn’t look nearly as bad to Scoop Jardine.
Did it really matter that the Orange shot 45 percent from the floor and missed 18 threes?
Missouri, a No. 2 seed, shot 53 percent, drilled 13 treys, and walked off the floor with its faces in its jerseys.
Did it matter that the two players Syracuse lean on the most - Jardine and Kris Joseph - couldn’t get shots to fall against Asheville’s annoying defense?
Duke, a second seed, got a double-double from Mason Plumlee, 19 points from Austin Rivers, and watched another team celebrate in its backyard.
“We saw a lot of upsets,’’ Jardine said. “A No. 2 seed lost to a No. 15 seed. That’s what this tournament is about.’’
The top-seeded Orange (33-2) lived to play another game Saturday against Kansas State, and in it they looked more like the team that ripped off 20 straight wins to start the season, scoring 50 points in a dominant second half and burying the Wildcats, 75-59, moving on to the Sweet 16 this week in Boston. First up for the Orange will be Wisconsin, which edged Vanderbilt.
Win pretty or win ugly, said Jardine, but in a tournament as wide open as this one, just win.
“How is a No. 1 seed supposed to play?’’ Jardine said, the look on his face incredulous. “We won the game. It don’t matter if we played good or bad. We won and advanced. That’s what the tournament is about.
“We advanced to the Sweet 16,’’ Jardine added. “That’s all that matters when we get there, too.’’
Jardine dropped 16 points, including three second-half threes that each knocked the wind out of a shorthanded Kansas State team that was playing without senior forward Jamar Samuels, who was ruled ineligible Friday night.
As a whole, Syracuse looked sharper, shooting 51 percent from the floor, 67 percent from 3-point range.
The Orange could pick scorers out of a hat.
Dion Waiters came off the bench in the first half and went on a one-man run, scoring 11 of his game-high 18 points. James Southerland, whose hot hand saved them against UNC Asheville, hung another 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting with a pair of threes.
In the second half, the Orange missed just four shots. The winning margin was their biggest since Feb. 11, when they thumped Connecticut by 18.
For a team that hadn’t shot 50 percent from the floor since Feb. 19 against Rutgers, coach Jim Boeheim said it was the kind of performance he had been waiting on.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve knocked down shots,’’ Boeheim said. “It just makes the game a lot easier when those shots go in.’’
Kansas State battled on the boards (41-32 edge), and trailed just 25-24 at the half, but couldn’t overcome the hole in its starting lineup.
The Wildcats grabbed 25 offensive rebounds, and turned the extra possessions into 20 points, but those were some of the best looks they got. As close as the first half was, they missed 26 of their 34 shots.
Rodney McGruder, who scored 30 points Thursday against Southern Mississippi, left the game in the first half after he rolled his ankle on Brandon Triche’s foot landing from a jumper. He was able to play 35 minutes but finished with 15 points.
Jordan Henriquez did his best to fill the void, contributing 14 points and 17 rebounds.
Kansas State (22-11) learned Samuels had been declared ineligible Friday night for reasons that weren’t specified, and coach Frank Martin refused to provide them after the loss.
“Please don’t ask me any questions about it because I had nothing to do with the decision,’’ Martin said. “Any questions pertaining to this matter, please direct to [athletic director] John Currie, my boss.’’
Currie told reporters that Samuels’s issue wasn’t academic.
Beyond his scoring and rebounding, Martin said the Wildcats missed his toughness.
“He’s our toughest kid,’’ Martin said.
The ruling wasn’t made public until minutes before tip-off.
“In my opinion, he did nothing wrong,’’ Martin said. “You always have to err on the side of caution and not do something and look back on it and then regret your decision.’’
Syracuse, of course, had been in the same position just days earlier, going without Fab Melo after finding out the Big East defensive player of the year had been ruled ineligible for the tournament.
Of the 21 games Syracuse has played since Jan. 1, 13 have been decided by single digits.
“The fact that we didn’t win by a lot doesn’t mean that we didn’t play well,’’ Boeheim said. “We obviously could have played better, but you’re going to have games like that in this tournament.
“We won the national championship and we were down, 35-8, against Oklahoma State. So you’re going to have games like that where you’ve got to come back, got to find a way to get back in there. That’s just the way the tournament is.’’Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.