ST. LOUIS >> The insufferable zone of Syracuse ground Middle Tennessee State's magical March ride to a halt, and the No. 10 seed Orange beat the No. 15 seed Blue Raiders 75-50 on Sunday night to advance to the Sweet 16.
Michael Gbinije poured in 23 points, Tyler Lydon added 14 and the Orange (21-13) used a 21-2 charge midway through the second half to crack open a close game and join five other ACC schools in advancing to the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
After teetering on the bubble a week ago, they'll play No. 11 seed Gonzaga on Friday in Chicago.
The Blue Raiders (25-10), who shredded so many brackets with their upset of second-seeded Michigan State, made things tough on Syracuse for a while. They led early in the second half and still trailed just 40-39 with 16:02 to go, but proceeded to make one of their next 16 field-goal attempts.
The Orange became the sixth and perhaps most unlikely of the ACC schools to advance to the Sweet 16, a record number for a single conference since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The league went 12-1 in the opening two rounds with only Pittsburgh losing.
Darnell Harris led Middle Tennessee State with 11 points, while Reggie Upshaw — who scored 21 points against the Spartans — was held to two on 1-for-10 shooting.
Trevor Cooney got Syracuse off to a good start with three early 3s, but he was just as valuable alongside Gbinije at the top of its zone. The long, athletic guards were able to cut off the Blue Raiders before they could drive to the basket, forcing them to take a series of off-balance jumpers.
Still, their trouble at the foul line allowed Middle Tennessee State to hang in the game.
The Orange led just 31-27 at halftime, and the hardscrabble Blue Raiders even managed to pull ahead when Giddy Potts followed a 3-pointer by Jaqawn Raymond with one of his own out of the break.
But after Potts, the nation's top 3-point shooter, hit again a few minutes later, the Blue Raiders managed one more field goal over the next 11 minutes. They resorted to deep 3-pointers rather than even try to penetrate the Syracuse defense, and Lydon kept swatting away the few inside chances they had.
Meanwhile, Gbinije started to heat up. The senior knocked down a pair of pull-up jumpers, then curled in a 3 from opposite the Syracuse bench, giving the Orange a 50-41 lead with just over 11 minutes to go.
By the time their game-defining run was over, the Orange were feeling sweet again.
The program has been overshadowed the past couple of years by an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct. The penalties included the loss of scholarships, the vacating of wins and the suspension of coach Jim Boeheim while keeping the Orange out of the postseason a year ago.
Well, they're back. And now they're sticking around for a while.
Middle Tennessee State: Potts finished with nine points. ... The Blue Raiders shot 29.7 percent from the field. ... .Florida Gulf Coast in 2013 remains the only No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
Syracuse: Cooney and Tyler Roberson scored 12 points apiece. ... The Orange had never played Middle Tennessee State in more than 100 years of basketball.
The Orange heads to the Windy City to play the Bulldogs on Friday.