Syracuse Orange assistant coach Gerry McNamara knows all too well what it is like playing inside the NCAA Tournament, having worked with his teammates and head coach Jim Boeheim to win the national championship a decade ago, in 2003.
Focusing on the team's upcoming foe, McNamara offered his thoughts on Marquette Golden Eagles' head coach Buzz Williams. "He's tough," said McNamara. "I think his players reflect what he is, and that's tough, grind it out, and competing. And obviously he's been successful for a reason because he does a great job of his guys competing on every possession."
Two years ago, Syracuse and Marquette also met in the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles defeated the Orange 66-62. Forwards James Southerland, C.J. Fair, and Baye Keita, along with guard Brandon Triche all competed in that game.
Speaking on what it means to have players heading into this match with Marquette who have already experienced playing them in the national tournament, McNamara expressed, "Well, they've been there. They've been there and that was a different team, a lot of different personnel. I think it just goes to the experience level of being in this tournament and knowing what it takes."
McNamara, looking at the Orange as a whole, sees what the team has been through this season as an aid to every player to couple with those that will face the Golden Eagles in the national tournament for a second time. "Being through adversity certainly this season and turning the corner and being confident in yourself and going out on the floor and believing in the work you have put in prior to competition....I think we take great pride in being prepared and stepping on the floor and knowing that personnel, and it's great when you have veteran guys that have been through it to kinda lead the way," McNamara offered.
Playing the guard position himself while competing with Syracuse, McNamara focused in on who he believes Triche has become for the program. "Brandon's a winner," McNamara expressed. "He's gonna go down as one of the winningest players to ever play in our program, and I think it kinda speaks volumes of his character level. He's never been the 'me' guy. He's always been the 'we' guy. And, he's quiet because all he cares about is winning and going out and competing and representing his hometown school. I think that's admirable."
"The way I look at it, Brandon Triche goes down as a winner in my book and when he's playing confidently and being in attack mode like he was against IU (Indiana University), he's a problem," added McNamara. "And he's gotta go out with a mentality of I'm gonna be assertive and I'm gonna be aggressive and it's gonna help our offense."
Triche went to the basket against Indiana, contributing two dunks and three layups, ending with 14 points in total.
Fellow senior Southerland has also raised his game to aid the Orange in the most opportune time.
His 19 makes from three-point range in the Big East Conference Tournament set a new single-tournament record for the Big East, surpassing the previous high of 16, achieved by McNamara himself.
When asked if he was happy that Southerland broke his tournament record, McNamara replied, "Oh, I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled for James. I'm thrilled for really the performance. It kinda kick-started the whole thing of us getting this going in the right direction."
McNamara witnessed more than just an offensive outburst come out of Southerland. "I told him as great as the three-point record was, I was more proud of his leadership role in New York," McNamara emphasized. "He was vocal. In times where we struggled, he was one of the guys that was talking, one of the guys encouraging. And, to me, that far exceeded any shot he made. He made an impact on his teammates and on our team, and I was really, really proud of him for that.
Having won the national title with his teammates in 2003, McNamara provided his comparison of that team to this season's Syracuse squad. "Well, I think the great teams always have to maintain a confidence level, and it never wavers," he stated. "I think these guys have done a pretty decent job of that."
"They never lost focus of what they could be, and regardless if you lose a few games, you still believe you can be an elite team, and to do that is not easy, especially when you lose a few," McNamara continued. "So, I think from a character standpoint, very similar to our championship team. From a personnel standpoint and relationship standpoint, very similar to our national championship team because these guys enjoy being around each other."
Syracuse advanced to the same place last season that they currently stand in, but the Ohio State Buckeyes prevented the Orange from getting any closer to the national championship than the Elite Eight.
Outside of freshmen, forward Jerami Grant and center DaJuan Coleman, everyone else on the current Syracuse roster was on the team that concluded their 2012 postseason campaign one step away from the Final Four.
McNamara's advice for not allowing a similar outcome against Marquette is to, "Go out, compete, have fun, and trust each other. Play with the same type of passion that has made us successful in the last few weeks."
Describing what has aided the Orange to advance through this postseason, McNamara remarked, "I think we've played loose. We've had fun. We've played at a high level on both ends of the court. We've shared the ball. We played winning basketball. We played Syracuse-style program basketball. And that's really the key. Go out and have fun with your friends and make each other better."