COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- The University of Richmond has played the part of Cinderella before in the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, but never as it did last night.
And never as anyone has since the field was expanded to 64 teams six years ago. The Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to beat a second seed when they upset Big East champion Syracuse, 73-69, in the opening round of the East Regional at Cole Field House.
After Richmond (22-8) blew the front end of two one-and-ones in the last four minutes, and nearly a 10-point lead along with it, a pair of free throws by freshman guard Eugene Burroughs with 21 seconds left gave the Spiders a 72-69 lead.
"At the pre-game meal, I told them that nobody thought we could beat Indiana in 1988 when they were defending champions and won the Big Ten, but we did," said Richmond coach Dick Tarrant, whose 1984 team had upset Auburn. "Good things happen when you coach great kids who are motivated to play."
The victory put the Spiders into tomorrow's second round against Temple, which earlier had little trouble in bouncing Purdue, 80-63. North Carolina State will meet Oklahoma State in the other second-round game.
The defeat left the Orangemen with their earliest departure from the NCAA tournament since 1978. Along with a first-round defeat to Villanova in the Big East tournament, and the cloud of an NCAA investigation hanging overhead, it might have put Jim Boeheim's coaching future in doubt.
"I thought Richmond got off to a great start," said Boeheim. "They hit their shots and we dug ourselves a big hole."
The Spiders helped their cause by making 16 of 26 shots in the first half to build an eight-point lead, 44-36. And it didn't hurt that they made 18 of 22 free throws. Or that they were able to stay with the taller Orangemen on the boards.
But after leading again by as many as 10 points midway through the second half, and by three with 69 seconds remaining, it looked as though Richmond was going to blow the game and the marvelous story line.
Syracuse (26-6) was right back in it when Billy Owens (22 points) twice cut the deficit to a point, first at 68-67 and later at 70-69 with 31 seconds remaining. Reserve guard Mike Hopkins then fouled Burroughs.
Said Burroughs: "I was a little nervous because I hadn't played much tonight and I thought I was going to be cold. But after I made the first one, I was pretty confident."
It showed. Burroughs, who had taken only 14 free throws the entire season (making 11), listened to his coach and, after making the first of two, winked to someone in the stands.
"I told him, after you make both shots, we have a foul to give," said Tarrant.
The Spiders were as well-coached down the stretch as the Orangemen were undisciplined. Curtis Blair fouled Adrian Autry to force an inbounds play. The Orangemen missed a couple of three-pointers, by Edwards and Billy Owens, and Blair (18 points) was fouled and made the second of two free throws.
Said Syracuse forward Dave Johnson, "In this tournament, everybody thinks they can win. They didn't come here thinking ** they were going to lose."
There were several heroes for Richmond, but none bigger than senior forward Terry Connolly of Frederick. After starting his career at Shepherd College, he wrote Tarrant asking for a tryout. Last night he came off the bench for 14 points and seven rebounds.
"You get a guy like Terry Connolly, who's not very quick and can't jump very high, and you see what he does tonight," said Tarrant.
Said Connolly, "It's hard to describe what we did, a feeling you can't really put into words. You just beat the Big East champions. It hasn't sunk in yet."
It hadn't sunk into Tarrant yet, either. But then again, he is used to orchestrating these kind of upsets. There was Auburn in 1984, as a No. 14 seed. And Indiana, also as a 14. And now Syracuse.
"They tell us to pack a suitcase with two pairs of underwear, a couple of suits in case we play Saturday," he said. "I think I have enough clothes."
Syracuse can pack now.
And go home.
Cinderella has arrived at the NCAA tournament, and once again, it's the Richmond Spiders playing the lead.