Opportunity, First Place, Lost at Dome

One of the strengths of this Notre Dame team has been its character. It will really be tested now after the Irish lost a 12-point second half lead at Syracuse and control of first place in the Big East's West Division. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli reports on a truly magnificent basketball game at the Carrier Dome and Notre Dame's self-doubts following.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

February 15, 2003

Opportunity Lost,
Self-Doubts Abound

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

SYRACUSE, NY (IE) – The coach was second guessing himself.  The star point guard questioned the officials.  The senior captain admitted he never had wanted to win a game more. 

Yes, this was opportunity lost. 

Notre Dame squandered a 12-point second-half lead Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome, ultimately dropping an 82-80 decision before an emotionally exhausted throng of 32,116, the largest on-campus college basketball crowd of the 2002-03 season. 

More than 2,000 of those spectators were family, friends and well wishers from Scranton, Pennsylvania, all bussed in to root for local hero Gerry McNamara.   Wearing t-shirts emblazoned "McNamara's Band" with the number 3 in a green shamrock, they received the ultimate prize for their devotion when the freshman point guard drained the game-winning three-point shot with 20 seconds remaining. 

The ramifications of McNamara's make, and Notre Dame's failure to score on the other end on the last possession of the game, were enormous.  Instead of moving into first-place in the West Division of the Big East, the Irish (19-5, 7-3) slipped into a second-place tie with Pittsburgh, one-half game behind Syracuse (17-4, 8-3).  And the Irish, remarkably, are now only one game ahead of surging Seton Hall – vanquishers of Pittsburgh and winners in six of the last seven – by one game. 

"I wanted this win more than anything," said Matt Carroll, who scored Notre Dame's final 11 points and had a team-high 22 overall, but had his attempted game-tying shot in the lane blocked by Jeremy McNeil. "The West Division, it is kind out of our control now.  I don't like that." 

It didn't have to be so.  The Irish were cruising, up 67-55 with 10:18 to play.  The magnificent crowd – Syracuse's largest since 1996 – was quiet and Torin Francis (17 points, six rebounds) was on the foul-line to shoot two. 

Francis missed both and little went right from then on. 

Encapsulating quickly, Syracuse's gifted freshman Carmelo Anthony (26 points, nine rebounds in a 40-minute NBA-worthy performance) got the Orange back into the game with 10 points over the next 3:30.  After a McNamara jumper tied it at 69 with 6:36 to play, the contest with back and forth with stunning intensity.  Carroll gave the Irish the lead four times at 6:06, 5:11, 4:26 and 3:47, only to be answered by Syracuse each time. 

Finally, with both players go at each other like their futures were at stake, Anthony hit a twisting lay-up at 1:31 to give the hosts a 79-77 lead.  Carroll responded -- after an empty ND trip and two missed Billy Edelin free throws – with a three-pointer from the wing with 26.5 left.  Irish, 80-79, and Syracuse time out. 

This is the part worth discussing. 

In the Notre Dame huddle, the memories of successful closing game strategies against Georgetown and Pittsburgh in his head, Brey instructed his team to show man-to-man and pull it back into a zone.  It turned out to be the wrong decision.  Jim Boeheim – he hasn't won 640 games over 27 seasons for nothing – anticipated something similar and told McNamara to be ready. 

"For four years (in high school), Gerry was four years was double-teamed and had to make the big play," said Boeheim. "So I think this is easy for him." 

The jumper he sank for the winning points was critical, but not challenging.  "It was," he said of his 15th, 16th and 17th points, "a much easier shot than I expected considering the circumstances." 

Brey took the blame. 

"We got so Anthony distracted," Brey said, perhaps coining a new Big East term. "We should have played man to man on that possession.  Anthony was obviously tough to guard, we just wanted to jam it up a bit.  In hindsight, I wish we would have stayed man-to-man, I don't think I put our guys in a great position there." 

Brey's judgment not to call a timeout after the McNamara basket could also be questioned.  The Irish did not set up and had to settle for a forced Carroll drive that really had no chance. 

"Against Pitt we did not use a time out," Brey said. "I thought we would come down and attack.  We did not get as a good a look.  McNamara's shot kind of shocked (us) a little bit and I don't know if we were as confident after that shot in front of the Syracuse bench." 

All the more reason, one could reason, to call a timeout.  But Boeheim perhaps said it best when shaking Brey's hand immediately after the buzzer. 

"These are the games, Mike, that you have been winning all year

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