The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Syracuse renews Final Four hopes after first place finish

NEW YORK (KRT) – Jim Boeheim thought he had seen it all in his 44 years at Syracuse, first as a player, then as an assistant and, for the last 29 years, as head coach.

He has coached the Orange to four Big East regular-season titles and four tournament championships, two final fours and a national championship in 2003, the crowning achievement in a Hall of Fame career.

He has coached great players like Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman and Pearl Washington, who all have their numbers retired in the Carrier Dome.

But he has never seen anything like this, where one inspirational player resurrected what had been a dysfunctional team that looked out of the NCAA picture, and put it in position to capture the hearts of New Yorkers in the Big East Tournament.

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The Orange completed an unlikely run to the championship with an emotional 65-61 victory against a determined Pitt team at the Garden on Saturday night.

Senior guard Gerry McNa-mara, who drained three more three-pointers, sco-red 14 points and had six assists against the Panthers, was brilliant all week against Cincinnati, Connecticut and George-town. “He cemented his legacy long before this, but people will remember this four-day performance forever,” Boeheim said.

McNamara played 38 minutes on Saturday night with a nagging groin injury and was a steadying influence. He looked exhausted when he walked out to receive the tournament MVP trophy afterward as the Syracuse faithful chanted his name. “I’ve never seen Gerry so tired,” Boeheim said. “Both teams were tired, but our guys wouldn’t be denied.
This team showed as much heart and guts as any team I’ve coached.”

This Syracuse team will go down as one of the most beloved in Garden history. And Boeheim has to be enjoying this wild ride. He had to sweat this one out at the end.

Little-used sophomore Josh Wright made four straight free throws in the final 17 seconds, the last two after Pitt senior guard Carl Krauser had made a three with 7.7 seconds left.

“That was the best part of this,” Boeheim said. “We needed all of them. I’m not sure Gerry would have made all four as tired as he was, although he probably would have found a way.”

When the game ended, junior forward Terrence Roberts threw the ball high into the stands. Syracuse may want that back for the trophy case They always have the power to surprise you.

Boeheim’s resilient players have come a long way in a short time. It wasn’t all that long ago – just a week and a half – when Syracuse looked hopeless in a 39-point loss at DePaul.

Not that long ago when center Mookie Watkins was sleepwalking through the season and Roberts was considered an underachiever.

Demetris Nichols was a role player and freshman guard Eric Devendorf was considered a talented player who gave up as many points as he scored because of immature decision-making and failure to close out on shooters at the top of Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

As recently as three days ago, Boeheim was saying his team wouldn’t have won 10 games without McNamara. But his team came to life in this tournament. Nichols made four threes and scored 15 points against Pitt. Roberts had 14 points. Watkins was a revelation, scoring nine points and grabbing 11 rebounds, and Devendorf added nine points, including a huge 17-footer that put the Orange up 57-54.

“On offense, we picked up a couple things,” Boeheim said. “Some guys showed some things they can do. That’s really going to help us in the (NCAA) Tournament. It’s going to help us next year, the way Mookie and Demetris have stepped up, the way Matt (Gorman) did and Terrence (Roberts), who had two huge games. As for Eric (Devendorf), this has been a great experience for him.”

Who knows what lies ahead for the Orange in March Madness? For now, they like the idea of being Cinderella.

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