If I didn't laugh, I would have cried. Make no mistake about it; if you watched this game, you saw history in the making. Never in Boeheim's tenure has Syracuse suffered a loss of this magnitude against a team of this caliber. Yes, SU was blown out in the first game of the '96 Great Alaska Shootout against Kentucky (87-54), and creamed in the second round of the NCAAs by Kansas in '01 (81-53). But those teams were capable of challenging for national titles, while this DePaul team is fighting for an invitation to the Big East Tournament. SU somehow managed to make them look like the '86 Celtics.
With so much on the line for the Orange, it was absolutely shocking the way the team played, especially on the defensive end. From the outset, there was no intensity or effort, as Syracuse turned the league's worst offensive team into a scoring juggernaut. To put things into perspective, DePaul entered the game averaging less than 63 points per contest. They were near the bottom of the league in three point shooting percentage (29.9%), and didn't have a single player who averaged more than 2.6 assists per game. By the end of the game, those numbers were completely shattered.
Looking back on tonight's game, the Blue Demons played nearly flawless basketball. They recorded an unbelievable 35 team assists, hit 16 three pointers, dominated both the offensive and defensive glass, and posted an unheard of 5:1 assist to turnover ratio. Marcus Heard, who averages 3 points per contest, went off for 15 points. The last time he scored in double figures was in November. Draelon Burns, a sub-30% three point shooter, connected on 3-6 trifectas and poured in 17 points.
I've been watching SU hoops since 1984, and I've never seen anything like this. NEVER. Going into halftime, I said to myself, "This DePaul team only hits 30% from three, this has to end at some point. They can't possibly go 8-15 from beyond the arc in the second half." Well, I was right, they didn't shoot 53.3% from three point range, they shot 61.5% (8-13), even better than they shot in the first half. Karron Clarke (27 pts) led the way, making all 5 of his threes, and 25% 3pt shooter Sammy Mejia (21 pts, 7 ast) dialed it up for 4-8 from long range.
When the Blue Demons weren't connecting from beyond the arc, they were sprinting down the court and beating the Orange to the basket for dunks and lay-ups. The Blue Demons hit 62.1% from the field on the evening. Wilson Chandler opened the game with two quick baskets by beating Darryl Watkins down the court. Boeheim yanked Watkins and put in Arinze Onuaku, who promptly scored on a putback dunk, but JB removed the big freshman shortly thereafter. Mookie turned in a typical 7 point, 6 rebound night. He showed a tantalizing turn-around jumper early in the game, but by the end of the game his one nice post move was long since forgotten.
Even with DePaul's quick start, Syracuse's offense didn't look completely inept in the early going. In the first 5 minutes, Devendorf scored 9 points on creative drives to the hoop. But the ‘Cuse was on the wrong side of the mathematical equation as they were trading 2 points for each 3 that the Blue Demons hit.
What was immediately obvious was the difference in the teams' playmaking ability – DePaul was playing unselfish basketball (starting PG Jabari Currie dished out 7 first half assists), while the entire SU offense revolved a single pass and quick shot nearly every possession. When the final numbers were tallied, DePaul had three players who recorded between 5 and 11 assists each in a truly remarkable showing of team sportsmanship.
After falling behind by 13 points, Boeheim finally switched out of the zone at the 6:19 mark of the first half. Wilson Chandler immediately drained a 5 footer in the middle of the paint, but after that SU picked up a spark and went on a 7-2 run. Nichols started the mini-run with a fastbreak jam, then McNamara finished it off with a three pointer to cut the lead to 10 (in hindsight a 10 point deficit seems like nothing).
That's when Louie McCroskey took over. Over the next two minutes, McCroskey decided he was the "I" in team and fired up three successive shots that failed to draw iron. First off was a ten-foot jumper from the corner that missed wide left. He followed that up with a 20-footer from the opposite corner – too bad the shot only traveled 17 feet. After SU picked up a defensive stop, Louie tried to go coast to coast, only to get his lay-up attempt blocked while Onuaku was fighting for position under the basket against a smaller defender.
That's not to say that Louie was the only player not performing. There was plenty of blame to go around, as the offense sputtered under Nichols' inability to drive and the big men's inability to catch Gerry's passes after dribble penetration. DePaul managed to extend the lead back to 14, but a Roberts turn-around cut it back down to 12. Unfortunately, SU couldn't ramp up its defense and Chandler and Clarke hit open shots within 10 feet of the basket to give the Blue Demons a 48-34 halftime lead.
Boeheim came out of the break in a fullcourt press and DePaul completely shredded it, scoring almost at will. Lorenzo Thompson, who had scored a TOTAL of 7 points since mid-December, drilled a 15 foot baseline shot to open the 2nd half. Syracuse continued its unbalanced play on the defensive end, leaving Blue Demons open for uncontested mid-range shots. Mejia knocked down a pair of 12 footers and Wilson Chandler tallied 6 quick points on a drive and 4 free throws. Suddenly SU was down 23 and the rout was on. The rest of the game barely warrants discussion.
Things got so bad that Clarke and Burns combined for 4 more three pointers during a two minute stretch at the 10:00 mark of the second half. Gerry hit a trio of meaningless late trifectas to finish with 21 points, but even these tack-on scores couldn't keep the final deficit from being comically lopsided.
By the end, this game had taken on a life of it's own. Little-used DePaul subs were coming off the bench to bury NBA range three pointers. Every Blue Demon shot seemed to find the bottom of the net. The loss was so devastating that Gerry McNamara was reduced to tears. Anyone seeing the big picture knows that, baring a miracle win against Nova on Sunday afternoon, GMac's career will have come full circle from Championship game as a frosh to NIT as senior. Syracuse has one last opportunity to right the ship against Villanova, but unless something drastic happens, this year's team is bound for ignominy.