With his team comfortably ahead, Jim Boeheim grinned slightly. When the game clock expired, the 71-year-old waved triumphantly to the joyous Syracuse fans who made the 888-mile journey to St. Louis. It’s amazing what two dominating victories in three days can do for one’s mood.

College basketball’s last angry man can smile now. Call him curmudgeonly. Call him combative. Call him extremely fortunate. Just don’t forget to call Boeheim one of the sixteen coaches still alive in the NCAA tournament.

Syracuse’s magical March turnaround continued after vanquishing upstart Middle Tennessee 75-50 Sunday night at the Scottrade Center. Syracuse was left for dead at the end of the regular season after finishing 1-6 down the stretch. Don’t close the casket yet. The Orange (21-13) advanced to a Sweet 16 matchup against No.11 Gonzaga (28-7) in the Midwest Region in Chicago. It’s the only meeting of double-digits seeds in the Sweet 16.

How did this program come so far in a short time? It did so with great second-half play against Dayton and Middle Tennessee, outscoring both by a combined 84-46 after the break. The Orange’s famous 2-3 zone stifled Middle Tennessee into 29.7 percent shooting. The Blue Raiders, who were 11 of 19 from 3-point range to upset Michigan State, were 8 of 24 from beyond the arc Sunday.

Syracuse broke open a close game with a 21-2 second-half run to take a 61-41 lead with 6:18 left. Middle Tennessee’s and Reggie Upshaw and Giddy Potts collected 21 and 19 points respectively against Michigan State. They totaled 11 Sunday, lost in the length of Syracuse’s zone. That effort was enough to make Boeheim feel giddy.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.