Syracuse Shoots A Dagger To Friars Hopes

Losses don't fall into the category of "devastating" much more than Providence's 71-67 heartbreaker to Syracuse on Saturday. The loss drops the Friars to 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the Big East, and deals PC a huge blow in their quest for the NCAA Tournament.

A sellout crowd of 10,800 crowded into the Dunk, clad in black, ready to celebrate… but they never got the chance. Syracuse, as has happened so many times in the past, dealt a dagger to PC's postseason hopes.

They came to honor senior center Herbert Hill, and Hill delivered, filling the stat sheet with 29 points, on 13-16 shooting, 15 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. But it wasn't enough, because most of all, Hill didn't get enough help.

The Friars, normally close to a fifty per cent shooting team, were harassed by Syracuse's aggressive zone into one of their worst shooting nights of the season. Other than Hill, up and down the box score, Friars suffered through pitiful shooting performances: Sharaud Curry was 6-19, Geoff McDermott was 1-6, Jonathan Kale was 2-8, Weyinmi Efejuku was 2-15 and Brian McKenzie was 1-7. Even worse, PC was just 4-22 from three point range. That kind of shooting gets you a loss.

In retrospect, it was amazing that PC was able to keep it as close as they did, and that's a tribute to timely hoops by Hill. "Herb played great," said an obviously dejected Tim Welsh. "But he needed some help. We need other guys to play better. He played like the player of the year today."

The Friars opened in a fog and Syracuse raced out to a 5-0 lead. The Cuse maintained their lead through most of the first half. Darryl Watkins hurt PC inside and Andy Rautins burned the Friars from the outside, as Syracuse led, 17-8, 24-17, and finally 27-18 on a Watkins free throw, before PC began to chip away.

A three by Curry cut the lead to 29-27, and a three by Efejuku trimmed the lead to 31-30 with 2:39 to go. After a Demitris Nichols layup, the final two minutes turned into something out of a Friar fan's fantasy.

Herb Hill scored on a layup, and after a Terrance Roberts free throw, Curry drove for a tying layup. Nichols missed a jumper, McDermott grabbed the rebound and Efejuku scored on a drive to give PC the lead. Eric Devendorf had a shot blocked by Hill, McDermott grabbed another rebound, and after Efejuku missed on a three, Hill grabbed the miss and slammed it home right before the halftime buzzer for a 38-34 Friar lead. The crowd exploded and the Orange looked stunned.

After regrouping at halftime, in the second half, Syracuse wasted little time regaining the lead. A three pointer by Rautins and a layup by Devendorf regained the lead, at 41-40, and while there would be three ties, after a layup by Hill, PC never saw itself in the lead again.

Two free throws by Hill tied the score at 44, but a Nichols three pushed Syracuse ahead. After a slow first half, (2-9 shooting, 4 points), Nichols awoke with a vengeance in the second half. Another three by Nichols gave the Cuse a 50-44 lead, before layups by Hill and Curry brought PC back to 50-48. A third dagger by Nichols opened the lead to 53-48, a Nichols layup made it 55-50, before a jumper by Kale and a lay-in by Ray Hall cut it to 55-54.

Rautins answered with a tip-in, and following a Hill layup, Devendorf buried a three. Now it was 60-56 with 6:43 to go. A block by Hill on Paul Harris would lead to a Curry runner, and a tip-in on a Curry miss by Hill tied the score at 60. Again, Rautins answered with a quick three, Efejuku hit one of two free throws, Rautins nailed another layup, and Hill made one of two freebies. With time running down, Rautins missed a three, Hill rebounded, and McKenzie buried a top of the key three to tie the score at 65-all with 1:49 left.

Devendorf missed a jumper, but McKenzie missed another three, and then came one of the key plays of the game. After a Rautins travel, Curry found McDermott all alone under the hoop, and he missed what would have been a go-ahead bunnie with fifty seconds remaining.

Nichols followed with a fall-away three point dagger with :37 left, and Hill answered with a short jumper and PC trailed 68-67 with only twenty-one ticks left. A foul by Curry put Devendorf on the line and he made the first freebie for a two point lead, but missed the second. Which brought key play number two. Efejuku drove to the basket for a layup but was hit in the face by Watkins and missed… with no foul call. Forced to foul, Harris iced the game with two free throws with four seconds left.

The effort was certainly there for PC. The Friars killed Syracuse on the glass, by a 51-38 margin, including 26 offensive boards. Add in ten blocked shots and only fourteen turnovers, and you can zero in on the Friars inability to make shots.

"It was a tough game," said Welsh. "It comes down to execution. Nichols makes a three, Geoff missed a layup, Watkins slapped Weyinmi in the head and he missed a layup. But you've got to be tougher. You can't let a slap to the head make you miss. The game turned into a scrum on both ends. Herb played almost forty minutes and got to the line four times, Watkins got to the line ten times, so I guess he was allowed to be a lot more physical."

The challenge now for the Friars is to keep their focus and put forth the same effort on the road, as the season grinds to a close. Given the way PC has played on the road this year, that won't be easy, but the first step will be Wednesday at South Florida.

Notes:
The Friars hosted Mookie Jones, a 6'7 combo forward from Peekskill High in New York, for the game… A number of former Friars, including Steve Wright, Jacek Duda, Corey Wright, Michael Brown, Ryan Ford and Dickie Simpkins, were in attendance… The "Blackout" worked very well – except for some scattered pockets of orange, the crowd was mostly dressed in black… John Dolan made his final appearance as PC's emcee… PC scored 44 points in the paint, Syracuse 26, and had 25 second chance points to the Orange's 16.

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