DETROIT -- Syracuse wasn't supposed to be dancing. The team many didn't want to invite to the party is refusing to go home.
Tyus Battle launched himself into a sea of orange-clad teammates as Cassius Winston's half-court heave fell short for Michigan State. As Battle and junior Frank Howard made their way back to Syracuse's locker room after a 55-53 upset victory Sunday evening, Howard turned to his teammate and asked, "So where are we going next?" It took a few seconds before either of them could come up with an answer.
It has been a draining whirlwind of a week for the Orange and the core players who have rarely, if ever, left the floor during their unlikely winning streak. It was an equally draining couple of hours that sent Syracuse onto the Sweet 16 and sent home a Michigan State team that many thought had the pieces to make a run at Tom Izzo's second national championship.
It was fitting that the final minute played out in a halting maze of foul shots and replays. Battle finished with a game-high 17 points, a few of those being foul shots at the end of an exhausting game. Howard chipped in 13 points and was on pace to play the entire game before he fouled out late in the second half.
"They battle. I'm really proud of them," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "They just don't let things get away."
The Orange had a losing record this season in ACC play, in which they were 1-5 against ranked opponents. Injuries and midseason transfers made a short bench almost nonexistent. Michigan State looked as if it might get away as well, as the Spartans took hold of a five-point lead in front of a friendly local crowd with less than eight minutes to play.
Syracuse kept chipping away and relied on its defense Sunday to finish with its third win in the past five days.
Boeheim didn't make any attempts to dress up his current roster with platitudes and euphemisms this week in Detroit. It has been a slow dance for the Orange, and the moves haven't been great. By doing his best to make sure their games are gloomy and muddy, though, Boeheim has the Orange headed to the most unlikely Sweet 16 appearance of his four-plus-decade career.
The trademark 2-3 zone is particularly well equipped for creating sloppy conditions. It held Arizona State and its efficient offense to 56 points in the First Four in Dayton. TCU managed only 52 points in a sludge-filled, first-round victory for the Orange. Against Michigan State, a team loaded with future NBA draft picks in zone-breaking roles, Syracuse's weary defense gave up only 25 first-half points, and the Orange never trailed by more than six points.
Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr., who probably will be a top-five draft pick if he leaves for the NBA this year, managed only two points and didn't make a field goal in a meager 15 minutes on the floor. Fellow future lottery pick Miles Bridges made a couple of big 3-pointers and rattled nearly all of Little Caesars Arena with a Thor-like dunk with eight minutes to play, but twice he rose up for potential tying jumpers in the final minute of the game and both times came up empty.
As a team, the Spartans shot worse than 30 percent from the field and missed their final 12 attempts of the game in a drought that lasted nearly six minutes.
After the TCU win, Howard was asked by a reporter if mucking it up was the type of game Syracuse's players were hoping to play.
"Uhh, nah," he said. "No, this wasn't ideal for us."
Howard scored seven points against the Horned Frogs while playing all 40 minutes. Battle hasn't left the floor once for the Orange so far this tournament. Oshae Brissett got a three-minute breather against the Sun Devils but hasn't had a break since then. They'll now get the better part of a week to rest before gearing up again for a meeting with ACC foe Duke. Boeheim said he expected his players would be fully rejuvenated by then.
"They'll be fine," the coach said. "They get four days off. Shoot, they'll be fresh [and] ready to go."
Syracuse's approach to its past few games might have been tiring and less than ideal whether you are playing or watching. But right now, it's working and the Orange are marching on.