Florida and Syracuse both struggled at home Wednesday night, but only No. 2 prevailed. Auburn pushed Florida to the brink of an upset at the O’Connell Center, but a pair of last-minute miscues cost the Tigers. Almost simultaneously, Boston College beat No. 1 Syracuse to hand the Orange their first loss of the season.
Boston College, which had beaten just one team in 2014 (Virginia Tech twice), won 62-59 in overtime. It was an emotional win for the Eagles who are mourning the loss of former basketball sports information director Dick Kelley.
According to KenPom.com, the Orange had a 96 percent chance of beating the Eagles, which were 6-19 heading into the game. In an interview with ESPN after the win, Eagles coach Steve Donahue said he was “speechless.”
Syracuse led by as many as eight points early in the second half, but Boston College slowly sliced the lead. Even so, the Orange appeared close to pulling off another miracle at the end of regulation. Tyler Ennis missed a layup but got his own rebound with 20 seconds left. Out of the timeout, Rakeem Christmas missed a short jumper and the game went to overtime.
Olivier Hanlan started the extra period for Boston College with a 26-foot three-pointer. BC led until Ennis hit a pair of free throws with 1:12 left to put the Orange up 57-56. The Eagles struck back with a Patrick Heckmann layup, and after C.J. Fair came up empty on a drive, the Orange sent Lonnie Jackson to the free-throw line.
Jackson, a 56 percent free-throw shooter, better known for his prowess from beyond the arc, hit both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Rakeem Christmas rebounded a Tyler Ennis miss to keep the Orange within one. When BC inbounded, Syracuse again fouled Jackson; again, Jackson delivered.
The Orange had one last chance, but Trevor Cooney missed a three-ball. Ryan Anderson grabbed the board and launched the ball into the air in celebration. When it landed, the only undefeated team left in the country was Wichita State.
Meanwhile in Gainesville, the Gators trailed at the half for the third game in a row. Featuring six ties and nine lead changes, the game was the definition of back-and-forth. Auburn appeared ready to deliver a knockout punch to the Gators with just under a minute left, but Tahj Shamsid-Deen missed a point-blank layup. The Gators' Michael Frazier capitalized on the other end with a three from the top of the arc.
Then Auburn absolutely collapsed. Florida's Will Yeguete sent Chris Denson to the free-throw line, where he hit 1-of-2. On the rebound, Auburn's Asauhn Dixon-Tatum inexplicably fouled Gators center Patric Young, who then sunk both free throws. With no one in the backcourt to receive the ensuing inbounds pass, the Tigers' Allen Payne threw the ball away. The turnover forced Auburn to foul Scottie Wilbekin. The Gators hit their free throws the rest of the way to seal the win. Florida and Wichita State are unlikely to meet until a potential Final Four matchup, but it looks like they'll have an off-the-court battle for the top spot in the polls on Monday.