Red-faced Orange sneak past 16th seed

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UNC-Asheville’s J.P. Primm, left, and teammate Matt Dickey sit on the bench in the final seconds of a 72-65 loss to Syracuse in an NCAA tournament second-round college basketball game in Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 15, 2012. ( AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH – There’s losing. And then, there’s losing.

North Carolina-Asheville was inconsolable after missing a golden opportunity to make history. In position to become the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed, the Bulldogs couldn’t finish the job and fell to Syracuse 72-65 in the NCAA tournament Thursday.

‘‘There’s not enough time for cooling off for this one,” said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach, trying to contain himself after some tough calls went the other way. ‘‘The bigger the game, the more frustrating it is when you play well and don’t win. This is really tough to take. Our guys deserved a better fate. [Today], we were better than Syracuse.”

A crowd of 18,927 that adopted the underdog Bulldogs (24-10) roared its disapproval when a lane violation gave Scoop Jardine, who had missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:20 left, a second chance. Jardine cashed in, making two foul shots that increased Syracuse’s lead to 64-58.

With 35 seconds left and Asheville down 66-63, the ball appeared to go out of bounds off Syracuse’s Brandon Triche. But the Orange (32-2) kept the ball as officials denied Biedenbach’s filibuster.

‘‘I was asking him if he was going to go to Primanti’s to eat,” said Pittsburgh native Biedenbach, dodging the officiating grenade by mentioning a legendary local sandwich shop.

‘‘That’s why they make scoreboards,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim huffed when told Asheville said it was the better team in this game. ‘‘All the noise about the ball going out of bounds, Triche got pushed. That’s why it went out of bounds. Maybe they missed the out of bounds; they missed the foul call. Those things equal out.”

Referee Ed Corbett declined to comment on the out-of-bounds play because it was a judgment call. He defended the lane call, saying, ‘‘It was a clear violation. It was the right call.”

It was also the kind of call that’s often ignored.

‘‘It’s tough when things don’t go your way,” said leading scorer J.P. Primm (18 points), one of four Asheville senior starters who didn’t want their careers to end this way. ‘‘We surprised a lot of people. Nobody in the building thought we’d be up four at halftime. We’re not satisfied just because we played ’em close. We knew we were going to play ’em close.”

When Asheville calms down, it will look back on a stretch of four empty possessions after it pulled into a 54-54 tie with 6:42 left. It will credit a Syracuse defense that held Big South player of the year Matt Dickey to five points on 1-for-13 shooting, including 1-for-9 from three-point range.

Syracuse was missing 7-foot center Fab Melo, the Big East defender of the year who has academic woes. But this loss wasn’t about that. The Orange will have to play better, but tournament lore is filled with teams that survived and advanced.

Another loser here also might have been sore, but coach Larry Eustachy kept things in perspective after his No. 9 Southern Miss team lost a competitive game to No. 8 Kansas State 70-64.

‘‘It was really cool,” said Eustachy, who has found success in sobriety after an alcoholic meltdown at Iowa State. ‘‘[I’m] much more appreciative of the situation. Very humbled. This is as special as it gets. God has given me a second chance. I really have enjoyed the moment.”

There’s winning. And then, there’s winning.

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