Boeheim’s Army has survived the first two games of The Basketball Tournament, the second in thrilling overtime fashion. Despite the closeness of the game, the group featuring mostly former Syracuse basketball players never lost confidence in their eventual triumph.
”It wasn’t really relief, I never thought we were going to lose at any point,” forward Terrence Roberts said. “It was more excitement than anything. Their crowd was really in their favor being the hometown team and all. It was just a rough game.
”They went to the free-throw line a ridiculous amount of times. They got some of the most softest calls I’ve ever seen in my life. The one ref was from Philly. The odds were stacked in their favor.”
But Boeheim’s Army stayed with their game plan despite not receiving the benefit of the whistle, and were able to pull out the win. From that point on, the focus turned towards their next opponent, the Liberty Ballers. A team that features some former Villanova and Siena players.
Facing teams with former Big East players is something that only fuels the competitive juices of Boeheim’s Army. Former Wildcat guard/forward James Minor-Bell, forward Antonio Pena and forward Reggie Redding lead a roster that also features former Davidson power forward Jake Cohen, former temple guard Ryan Brooks and Siena guard Ronald Moore. They don't have as much length and size as Boeheim's Army, but they have several gifted scorers.
”Every team presents a challenge,” guard Eric Devendorf said. “All guys playing are at a high level, which is what we like because we are a competitive group of guys. It’s just fun to get together and play with all my friends.
”I have been looking forward to it for a while.”
Roberts knows that the Liberty Ballers will present a different challenge as they look to advance to the final eight teams in search of the $1 million prize.
”The biggest challenge with them is we’re going to have to lock down defensively a lot better than we’ve done in the previous two games,” Roberts said. “They’re going to be one of the better scoring teams. They’re very well balanced. Once again, we’re going into a game with more experience.
”We probably have more experience than they do. We just have to be ready to play and bring our A-game.”
Devendorf agrees, citing runs as they key to a successful weekend.
”We have to play hard and work together,” he said. “We know teams will make runs, but we have to withstand them and stay focused on our goal, which is the championship.”
With everyone living in different areas of the country, it can prevent a challenge as far as practicing, studying the opponent and making sure everyone is on the same page. But Boeheim’s Army has found a routine that seems to be working.
”What we’ll do is have everybody individually breakdown the film,” Roberts said. “We have a bunch of pros. A bunch of guys on our team that knows the game. Everybody will breakdown the team that we need to watch and watch their previous games. See what we can do for certain assignments.
”For the most part, just really stay the course. Everybody just works out and makes sure they get their work done. Make sure you’re doing your recovery stuff this week. Just be prepared. All of the guys on our team are pretty seasoned. It’s easier to acclimate to the game in the sense of being able to adapt better than we could back in college.”
Boeheim’s Army had a week prior to the start of the tournament where they were able to all practice together on a regular basis. That helped work out any kinks they may have had in developing on-court chemistry.
They are expected to have some reinforcements Friday night in former Syracuse stars Rick Jackson and Donte Greene, according to general manager Kevin Belbey. Those additions will bolster the talent and depth on a roster that already features both.
”Two big time players who the other team has to worry about as a serious threat,” Devendorf said. “Both guys can score and rebound and play D.”
In addition, leading scorer Demetris Nichols is now expected to play Friday night and, if Boeheim’s Army wins that game, against any potential opponent on Saturday. Previously, he was going to miss at least Saturday’s game with a wedding conflict.
Having him on the floor is critical to the success of Boeheim’s Army.
”Huge,” Devendorf said. “He is an amazing player. We workout together every summer and haven’t met a guy who competes like he does.”
Just like when these guys were playing for Syracuse, they have received the full support of the Orange fan base. Social media is buzzing when Boeheim’s Army is playing with fans complaining about officiating and living and dying on every shot.
That support is something that the entire team has noticed from the moment their squad’s participation in The Basketball Tournament was announced.
”It’s been the world,” Roberts said. “Giving us that feeling of being back in the school. I know personally for myself, that’s one thing I wish I could do is go back and do another year of school and play another year at Syracuse.
"So to get that fan support and to be able to do the meet and greets with the alumni whether it be in Chicago or in Philadelphia, it’s an amazing thing.”
Devendorf, Roberts and the rest of Boeheim's Army face the Liberty Ballers at 6:45pm eastern Friday night. You can watch it streamed live online HERE.