Without center Etan Thomas, No. 17 Syracuse could have fizzled Saturday night against stingy Wisconsin. Instead, it was the Badgers who went bust.
Ryan Blackwell had 23 points and 12 rebounds, leading the Orangemen to a 68-49 victory in the championship game of the National Association of Basketball Coaches Classic.
It was Blackwell's second strong game in two nights in the absence of Thomas, who remained hospitalized with a staph infection.
Syracuse broke open the game with a 24-6 surge in the second half. Jason Hart's 3-pointer started it with Syracuse ahead 39-38, and Preston Shumpert followed with his fourth straight 3, off a steal by Blackwell.
When Blackwell scored six straight points to put the Orangemen up 52-42 with just over six minutes remaining, the Badgers were done.
"I'm happy we won the way we did without Etan because with him in there it's going to be unbelievable," said Hart, who tied his career high with 10 assists and scored 11 points. "Everybody stepped up and showed that they could play the big minutes, and that's crucial for us."
Wisconsin center Mark Vershaw, who scored 19 points and had seven assists in the Badgers' first-round victory over Missouri, got into foul trouble in the second half against Syracuse.
"We're a team that battles down people," said Vershaw, who finished with 13 points and five rebounds. "We're not able to respond so quickly. We dug ourselves two holes and we weren't able to get out of the second one."
Trailing by seven points early in the second half, Wisconsin finally took advantage of Thomas' absence and pounded the ball inside to tie the game. A hook in the lane and a layup by Andy Kowske and a three-point play by Vershaw tied it at 36-36.
But Vershaw got his third foul with 9:54 left and Kowske, who had 12 points, got his fourth less than two minutes later, and Syracuse took off.
The performance, especially by seniors Blackwell and Hart, left coach Jim Boeheim smiling.
"This was a huge win," he said. "We've got to be very happy with the turmoil of this week, believe me. I'm happy to get out of here with two wins."
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