Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on March 18, 2018 at 5:28 pm Contact Tomer: [email protected] | @tomer_langer DETROIT — It seemed like the end. Frank Howard walked down the court with his hands on his head as head coach Jim Boeheim verbally attacked any referee who would listen.Syracuse was down four against a team that had lost just four times all year. A team it couldn’t take the lead over for much of the afternoon. And now, it had to play without the last six and a half minutes without its 40-minute point guard, in an arena that was mostly pro-Michigan State, creating a quasi-road game.None of that mattered. In miraculous fashion, No. 11 seed Syracuse (23-13, 8-10 Atlantic Coast) defeated No. 3 seed Michigan State (30-5, 16-2 Big Ten), 55-53, on Sunday afternoon in Little Caesars Arena, once again on the back of its stellar defense. The Orange moves on to the Sweet 16, where it’ll have a matchup with No. 2 seed Duke.“It’s just the heart of this team,” sophomore guard Tyus Battle said. “It’s amazing.”For the third time in five days, the Orange held a high-powered offense to less than 60 points. For the third time in five days, there were moments when it seemed like neither team would score. And again, for the third time in five days, Syracuse won.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“These guys just keep going, they keep battling,” Boeheim said. “Frank fouls out, it doesn’t faze them. They just keep going.”Teams and players evolve throughout a season. Guard Geno Thorpe decided to leave the team and Howard Washington went down with an injury. Marek Dolezaj transformed from glue guy off the bench to starter who led SU in scoring in the Round of 64. At the beginning of the year, head coach Jim Boeheim constantly lamented Oshae Brissett’s shot selection. In March, Brissett was the go-to scorer down the stretch.But Syracuse’s style and game flow stayed the same throughout. The Orange was constantly stuck in close games. It could never fully pull away from weaker teams, like Iona to start the season or Pittsburgh twice in the ACC, despite winning those games. It hung around at Virginia and at home with North Carolina, but couldn’t get over the hump to beat either of those teams.And despite March being college basketball’s most unpredictable stretch, things weren’t going to change. Syracuse won its first two NCAA Tournament games, against Arizona State and TCU, by nine points combined. There wasn’t a double-digit lead held by any of the teams in either of the games. The Orange scratched and clawed for points, suffocated its opponents defensively and scraped by with wins.Those teams were good teams, comparable to Syracuse. Michigan State was like Duke, Virginia and North Carolina — a Top 10 team in both the AP polls and in Kenpom.com’s season rankings that was sitting on the same hump that the Orange just couldn’t get over.“We’ve just been fighting an entire year,” Battle said. “We’re constantly trying to prove ourselves in this Tournament.”Katie Czerwinski | Digital Design EditorHoward’s departure all happened quickly — he picked up back-to-back foul calls on rebounds, and then a few minutes later, picked up two more back-to-back fouls and was disqualified.Off the bench hopped Braedon Bayer, playing his first significant minutes in about a month. Syracuse still hadn’t led once in the second half. It faced the daunting task of reclaiming it with a former walk-on in place of one of its big three.The Orange refused to let that have an effect, instead doubling down on the grind-it-out approach it used all season. It kept the clamps on Michigan State, giving up just one field goal after Howard’s departure.“We just kept battling,” Howard said. “We knew they were going to punch us in the side a lot … we just fought down the stretch and we came up when we needed to.”The Spartans out-rebounded the Orange by 21. Syracuse had to fight for every possession it did get, like when Oshae Brissett skied up to try and get a defensive rebound over two MSU players, fell out of bounds and threw it off a player’s legs.Slowly, Syracuse managed to close the gap. Bourama Sidibe and Marek Dolezaj got fouled jockeying for position on the glass and made four-of-six between the two of them. Battle added two more from the line. Brissett threw in an acrobatic layup that rattled the rim before falling.None of this was all that new, though. The Orange had hung with the titans of college basketball.This game was different. Battle, who had struggled all night, knocked down a jumper from the free-throw line with 47 seconds left. The two teams exchanged free throws, but MSU couldn’t make shots in the face of Syracuse’s stingy zone.“We’ve got a lot of fighters and a lot of talent,” Howard said, “… and with that combination, I think we can come up with some wins.”The Orange did the same thing it’s done in nearly every game this season. The same thing it did against Toledo and the same thing it did against Kansas.On Sunday, for the first time in its most important contest, Syracuse did something different: It slayed a giant.