DENVER — If anyone had any questions about Syracuse senior John Wallace's ability to come through in key situations, he answered them Friday night with one of the best individual performances of this NCAA tournament.
Despite playing with four fouls over the final 17 minutes, Wallace first rallied the Orangemen from a 10-point, second-half deficit and then sent them into the West Regional final with a dramatic, leaning three-point basket with 2.7 seconds left in overtime in their 83-81 victory over Georgia at McNichols Arena.
Pertha Robinson had given Georgia an 81-80 lead with seven seconds remaining in overtime with his fifth three-point basket of the game, before Wallace dribbled downcourt and swished a three-point shot from the top of the key to send the Orangemen into Sunday's regional final against Kansas.
"I knew that I was going to take the last shot," said Wallace, a 6-foot-9 forward who passed up the NBA draft last year to stay in school. "I didn't even think twice about it."
Wallace finished with 30 points and 15 rebounds, but his statistics only begin to tell the story of his impact on a game filled with one huge play after another down the stretch.
"Over the last 10 minutes of the game, including the overtime period, that was basketball as good as it gets," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, whose team needed a last-second 10-foot jumper by Jason Cipolla to send the game into overtime. "I didn't think that John was going to make that shot, but he did."
With 12:12 remaining in the second half, eighth-seeded Georgia (21-10) appeared to have Syracuse (27-8) against the ropes with a 52-42 lead. The Bulldogs, who shot 31.3% and trailed, 37-30, at halftime, had taken Syracuse's best shot before outscoring the Orangemen, 22-5, after the break.
That's when Boeheim decided to gamble and put Wallace back into the game with four fouls after six minutes.
"I wanted to get back in the game because I had felt like I had let the team down," said Wallace, who made 10 of 18 shots from the field. "While I was on the bench, I was looking at [Boeheim] the whole time hoping that he would put me back in."
Syracuse responded with a 10-3 run to close within, 55-52, but the feisty Bulldogs refused to break. Behind the outside shooting of Pertha Robinson and slashing drives by Shandon Anderson, Georgia built its lead back up to eight points with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
"The game's intensity really picked up," said Anderson, who finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds. "It was just do-or-die situations all the way to the end."
With Georgia sagging on defense to stop Wallace, Syracuse senior point guard Lazarus Sims, who played all 45 minutes, made the two biggest three-point baskets of his career to jump start the Orangemen. Sims, who also had a game-high 10 assists, cut Georgia's lead to 65-62 with his second three-point basket at the 2:17 mark.
"If 'Z' does not make those shots, it would have been a 10-point game in their favor," Boeheim said about Sims' late shooting. "He only makes them when we really need them."
From there, Wallace took over with two key defensive rebounds, a pair of free throws, an inside assist to Otis Hill and a difficult layup in traffic to tie the game at 68 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.
That's when Robinson, who made five three-point baskets and finished with 21 points, put Georgia back on top, 70-68, when he ran down a loose rebound and sank a jump shot with 3.5 seconds remaining.
Following a series of timeouts, Syracuse had the ball at half court with 2.5 seconds left and its season on the line. With the five-second count running out, Wallace lobbed a deep inbounds pass over a leaping Anderson into the hands of Cipolla, who calmly made a baseline jump shot to tie the game, 70-70, at the regulation buzzer.
"I never thought we would lose," said first-year Georgia Coach Tubby Smith. "I always think we could win and I thought we would tonight. It was a tremendous game."