ON THE ROAD FROM SYRACUSE

John Rooke is the long-time Voice of the Friars, and along with his radio partner, Joe Hassett, forms one of the very best on-air tandems in all of college basketball. Here, John provides his insight on PC's first trip to the Carrier Dome since 1999 – a disappointing 91-66 loss to the Orange.

Winning on the road is one thing. Winning STREAKS on the road are an entirely different matter.

In recent seasons, the Friars have thrived on the hostile crowds, the airplane and bus travel, the feeling of "us against the world." This year hasn't been as successful as the last one might have been, but I do get the feeling the younger guys are learning. Hopefully, that will pay dividends in the near future. Winning one at Seton Hall was great. Trying to make it two in a row, playing at 15th ranked Syracuse with 32,000 fans in the Carrier Dome was a task few teams in this country could take on with any reasonable expectations for success. Throw in an emotionally-charged crowd for Jim Boeheim's potential 700th career win, and the deck was stacked against the Friars.

This was a bit of an odd trip, made even more unusual by the fact that it was PC's first game in the Carrier Dome since 1999, Coach Welsh's first season. That's something that we'll have to learn to live with in future seasons, however, because of the size of the new Big East. Scheduling will be inconsistent, at best. The team and travel party took a chartered plane from T.F. Green on Friday morning, with the early departure necessary because of the Noon tip-off on Saturday. The return home to Providence was by bus, because the charter wasn't available…and there were no flights from Syracuse to get us back to RI by the time we could reach the airport. So… take the bus, and leave the driving to someone else.

One of the great pleasures in traveling with the team is the ability to meet up with and talk with many Friar fans, some of which I've met through their affiliation with the Friar message boards/Friar Insider. Had a nice visit and shared a couple of drinks with the esteemed "Upstate" on Friday night, while meeting Friar82 at the team hotel on Saturday morning. Don't hesitate to introduce yourself if you're ever at an away game!

Shoot-around practice was a sight at the beginning on Friday afternoon, simply because none of the players on this Friar roster had ever played, or been inside, the Carrier Dome. There were a few wide-eyes, sure. It is an imposing structure for the uninitiated, and when full at 30,000+ fans, it can also be intimidating. After the first few minutes, practice settled into a nice, quick, sharp routine. Joe Hassett spent some time working with Rob McKiver on his jump shot release, trying to get him to put more of an arc on the ball as it left his hands. Joe also worked with Tuukka Kotti this past week on free-throws, and both players have shown immediate improvement. My partner can be – and is – a valuable asset as well as friend to the coaching staff.

We had an "only in Rhode Island" experience during lunch on Friday afternoon. While dining (ok, and drinking too) at a restaurant near our hotel in downtown Syracuse, we learned during conversation with a bartender that her aunt and uncle lived in Wickford, RI. Turns out they were former neighbors of Joe Hassett's, and the aunt is a good friend of Joe's wife, Paula. Like I said, "only in Rhode Island."

The team dined together at a local bar-be-que place, while Nick Parente, myself and Kevin McNamara spent much of the evening with a few fans, Friar administrators and the Big East Statbeast, John Zannini. One other little story to share – when KMac picked up a rental car Friday afternoon, the young lady asked if he was related to Syracuse star Gerry McNamara. Naturally, sensing an opportunity, KMac said that Gerry was his cousin. He received an upgrade to an SUV… at no extra cost, so I was told!

The game itself wasn't a big surprise, although the way it finished up was disappointing. The team didn't play particularly well early, yet managed to tie the game late in the half and trail by only 4 at the break. On senior day, and with win #700 waiting in the wings for Coach Boeheim, the team played as if it were waiting for the other shoe to drop. It finally did, after Randall Hanke picked up a 4th personal foul early in the second half. Much of the first half aggression was gone, and I felt for the first time this season, the team gave up with about 8 minutes to go. That was disappointing. These kids are better than that… but they are also human, and growing pains are something that every young player will experience… and not everyone can handle those pains in a positive fashion.

There were bright spots…Hanke was superb with a career high 17 points, and McKiver scored a career high 11. Fluff also had two crucial turnovers with the game still in doubt that swung the tide toward the Orange, and led to the floodgates opening. He still needs to learn "how" to play at this level. It's not easy, and it will take more time. Remember how Sheiku Kabba started out? McKiver is not unlike him… patience will be needed here. Three freshmen (Hanke, McKiver, DeSean White) combined for 34 of the 66 points.

The bus ride home was subdued, but for Ryan leading the conversation in the rear. One can only hope the younger guys listening were paying attention. There is very little time left for them to learn from an all-American.

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