Well, so much for that. It was a nice run, 'Cuse, but I guess you just didn't have enough gas left in the tank to make it three big wins in a row.
At least, that's how it looked at the half. It's cliché to refer to a squad as a "team of destiny," but at this point it is a hard title to shake. And really, why wouldn't people be talking about this team as one with destiny on its side? A miraculous win in the first round, an impressive upset of the No. 1 team in the country in the quarterfinals, and an incredible comeback win over its long time rival in the semifinals. Tomorrow, the Orange will be looking to capture its second consecutive Big East Tournament Championship, a feat that looked impossible at about 8:00 PM EST tonight.
The game opened in a rather sloppy fashion, with Terrence Roberts missing a bunny to kick things off, the ball getting kicked around a bit, and neither team able to get anything going on the offensive end. Georgetown was the first to strike when Jonathan Wallace drilled a three from the top of the key to make it 3-0 in favor of the Hoyas. The Hoyas jumped out to a 12-4 lead on a triple by Brandon Bowman, who continued his strong BET, and a layup by Ashanti Cook.
The Orange made an effort to keep it close, crashing the boards to the best of their ability and getting a pair of buckets from Louie McCroskey, who saw extended first half minutes and cut it to 22-14 with just over six minutes to play in the opening frame. After Wallace and Demetris Nichols traded three pointers and Roy Hibbert and Mookie Watkins traded inside buckets, the Hoyas went back to work on the perimeter behind the solid shooting of Darrel Owens, Wallace, and Cook to take a 36-21 lead into the break.
It was a frustrating first half for both the Orange and its fans, with the Hoya big men hitting the glass just a little harder than their Orange counterparts and McNamara spending a large portion of the half sitting next to Jim Boeheim in a move that at the time seemed like a concession. If G-Mac was hurt, it seemed as though Jimmy B decided that, with a tournament berth already locked up, it was time to rest his senior leader and give guys like McCroskey and Josh Wright a little extra court time. In his limited action, McNamara attempted only two shots and went into the locker room with two points.
It was a nice run through the tournament, but this is where it had to end, with McNamara's magic finally fizzling and destiny not quite having the Orange in mind.
The talking heads of ESPN continually reminded basketball fans everywhere that no Big East team has ever followed up an overtime win to come up with a victory in the next game of the conference tournament. Certainly, the Orange wouldn't snap that 0-16 streak with its best player hampered by a groin injury and getting only a few minutes here and there throughout the game.
And then, something happened.
The Orange came to life.
After a first half that could best be described as "dismal" and "lackadaisical," and must have had fans thinking to themselves, "Well, here we go again," the Orange regained the form of a team on a mission. Suddenly, this was a team playing with purpose and looking crisp on offense, and that no doubt had something to do with McNamara's reemgerence, along with the 2-3 zone becoming more and more active and forcing turnovers and missed shots.
Nearly three minutes passed in the second half before anyone scored, but when that first bucket went in it got the fans buzzing. McNamara knocked down a triple to make it a 36-24 deficit, and after the he got a steal and Eric Devendorf finished a breakaway layup, the deficit was cut from 15 points to 10 in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, there was life in this Syracuse team.
The old call of "destiny" seemed to be coming into play not long after when Watkins missed a pair of free throws, but a deflection brought the ball right back to the junior with a clear path to the hoop and he finished with authority to complete a 7-0 run to start the half. Jeff Green and Bowman made back-to-back jumpers to push the Georgetown lead back out to 12 and momentarily silence the Madison Square Garden crowd, but a vicious slam by Matt Gorman off a pretty feed from McNamara got the fans back on their feet.
The teams traded buckets for the next few minutes, with the Orange seemingly unable to get the deficit back to within 10 until McNamara knocked down his second triple of the game to make it 44-35. Another triple by G-Mac 1:20 later made it a six point game with just over 11 minutes to play.
At this point, it was clear that McNamara simply refused to go quietly, sore groin or not, and 37 seconds after his third triple he knocked down another tough long range bomb to make it 45-41 in favor of the Hoyas. Momentum was clearly swinging towards the Orange, and the Hoyas seemed to know it. In the first half they had been dominant, but suddenly it seemed that, with the zone becoming more active and the Orange hitting the glass harder (led by a strong, hard nosed effort from Gorman), Georgetown began to look a bit timid, particularly on the perimeter. After knocking down seven threes in the first half, the Hoyas guards quietly faded into the background, afraid to shoot, and when forced to take jumpers, they were generally well off the mark. In fact, over the final ten minutes of the game, only Green and Hibbert scored for the Hoyas.
Watkins made a layup to cut the Hoyas lead to 47-46, but was soon answered by Roy Hibbert on the other end. Hibbert was a nuisance for the Orange all evening, throwing his enormous body around en route to nine points and 13 boards, including five on the offensive glass. Trailing 49-46, Gorman flashed to the left wing and without hesitation drilled a triple to tie the game for the first time since the scoreboard read 0-0.
For every bucket the Orange made, though, Green and Hibbert responded. Twice the Orange cut the Georgetown lead to one on layups by Devendorf, but each time Hibbert responded with two points of his own, first on a layup and then on a pair of free throws. After a pair of missed layups by Devendorf and a missed triple by Nichols, Hibbert knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to make it a 57-53 lead for the Georgetown, and it seem as though the Orange had finally run out of magic.
And then the McNamara Magic struck for the third consecutive day. A strong rebound by Gorman got the ball back for the Orange with just over a minute to play, and only seven seconds after a Boeheim called in his troops for a full timeout the boy from Scranton took an inbounds pass from the sideline and quickly dribbled to the right wing, where he calmly pulled up and drilled a three to cut the Hoya lead to one.
As McNamara walked off the court looking as cool and confident as ever, Orange fans began to realize that fate might once again be smiling on the team from the Salt City.
The Hoyas took possession with 48 ticks on the clock, working the time down to 17 seconds before strong defense resulted in a Georgetown tourney. Matt Gorman reached up to deflect a pass and without hesitation, Nichols pounced on the ball. He immediately found McNamara, who raced down the court just out of reach of a gang of Hoyas attempting to give up a foul to stop the breakaway, but G-Mac threaded a beautiful left handed bounce pass to a streaking Devendorf, who put the ball up and in to give the Orange its first lead of the game at 58-57 with 13 ticks on the clock.
The Hoyas raced down the floor following the bucket, but were unable to get a shot, instead being forced into a traveling violation to give the ball back to Syracuse with 1.5 seconds left in the game and sealing the sweet comeback victory by the Orange.
After the game, an exuberant McNamara pounded the floor and celebrated with a grin stretching from one ear to the other, being swarmed by not only his teammates but also former SU greats Derrick Coleman, Pearl Washington, and Lawrence Moten.
McNamara finished the game with 17 points on 6-10 shooting, including five big second half three pointers, to go along with five assists (the most important of which being the dish to Devendorf for the game winner). Devendorf's game winner gave him 12 points for the game to go along with three boards and five assists, while Nichols finished with 10 points and was 2-for-5 from beyond the arc.
Watkins finished the game going 4-for-5 from the field to give him eight points and added a team-high six boards, while Gorman came off the bench to play an outstanding ballgame, scoring six points and grabbing five rebounds.
Heading into the game, if most SU fans had been told their team would be outrebounded 33-21 and get a combined eight points and eight boards from the starting power forward and center, they would have guessed the game would be won decisively by the nationally ranked Hoyas. While the absence of Roberts both on the stat sheet and in the game itself is disconcerting for fans hoping he'd continue his ascent to solid all-around contributor, it is more apt to say that with the lack of playing time for the big man from Jersey City could be attributed to the strong overall play of Matt Gorman, who showed touch from deep and a tenacity on the boards that Roberts was lacking in his 14 minutes on the floor.
With the win, the magic continues. It has been an astonishing run by what had been an underachieving team to improve to 22-11 overall, going from solidly NIT bound to potentially Big East Champions and as high as a five or six seed. After a dramatic last second win and an unbelievable overtime victory over the No. 1 team in the land, coming into the game it seemed that the only encore could be either a dominant blowout win or a miraculous come from behind victory.
The Orange accomplished the latter. Hopefully tomorrow, they can provide Syracuse fans with the former. No matter what happens, though, the amount of heart and determination showed by this Syracuse team during the Big East Tournament can only be applauded and appreciated by the Orange Nation. It has become an incredible story of sheer willpower overcoming incredible odds, and a legendary Irishman flat out refusing to lose in his final collegiate season.
Tomorrow night the Orange face yet more overwhelming odds when they face No. 16 Pittsburgh, which handled SU rather easily this season. Pittsburgh is a bad matchup for the Orange with their physicality. Still, the Panthers have weaknesses, and this is not the same Syracuse team they saw earlier this season. The Orange are no doubt both physically and emotionally exhausted after these three incredible days, but when destiny is on your side, anything is possible.