That's the best word to describe Jonny Flynn's game-winning three pointer from the top of the key with 6 seconds left in Tuesday's Preseason NIT Quarterfinals. With Syracuse clinging to a slim 67-65 lead less than a minute before, Flynn made a terrible play, forcing a lame-duck foul line jumper after losing his footing. The Hawks quickly grabbed control of the ball and Darrin Govens (22 pts, 6-14 3pt) raced ahead for an apparent game-tying layup, but he missed the breakaway and a hustling Eric Devendorf snagged the rebound.
Pat Calathes (22 pts, 8 reb, 6 ast) was charged with an over-the-back foul on the play and Devendorf hit one of two free throws, giving the Orange a three point lead. Calathes eventually tied the game on an old-fashioned three point play with 25 seconds left, setting the stage for the dramatic Flynn trifecta. After that, the final five seconds played out in truly bizarre fashion.
Jonny Flynn fouled Tasheed Carr to force the Hawks into a 1-and-1 free throw opportunity. Whether this was a call from the bench (unlikely, as Boeheim usually eschews this tactic) or a freelance from Flynn is currently unanswered. In any event, Carr hit the first free throw and missed the second on purpose. As he did all evening, Paul Harris (18 pts, 14 rebs, 6 ast, 2 st, 1 bs) fought his way to the rebound and was fouled with 0.8 seconds remaining.
Note: The post-game interview indicated that Boeheim did make the call to force St. Joes into the 1-and-1 situation
With SU up 71-69, all Harris had to do was make both and the game would be over. However, he missed the first, then hit the follow-up despite direct orders from the bench to miss it. This allowed St. Joseph's to inbounds the ball and Pat Calathes was able to get a wild off-balanced three pointer up from deep in the corner. The shot caromed off the backboard, but Boeheim was irate with Harris and the ESPN cameras caught the Hall of Fame coach in full "chew out" mode just before he shook hands with his counterpart (and friend) Phil Martelli. It was a weird ending, to say the least...
The path leading up to the end game scenario wound through a variety of locales, both hostile and comfortable. Syracuse got off to an incredibly sluggish start, going nearly six minutes without scoring. The offense was once again very careless with the ball and to make matters worse seemed content to settle for contested long-range shots. St. Joe's pulled ahead 10-0 on a Darrin Govens three-pointer, but Syracuse finally answered when Kristof Ongenaet found Donte Greene for an open triple of his own.
Once Greene's jumper broke the ice, the 'Cuse went on a 29-14 run and appeared to take control of the game. Harris was all over the place with 8 pts, 6 boards, and 4 assists before the break and Eric Devendorf added 11 points. Unlike yesterday's game against Siena when the Orange players appeared to open the second half in a near-catatonic state, tonight they came out of intermission with renewed focus. A pair of dunks by Onuaku and a three-pointer from Paul Harris (yes, you read that correctly, Harris hit a three from the corner) gave the Orange a comfortable 12 point lead at 45-33.
Rather than methodically pull away for an easy victory, the Syracuse players decided it would be more fun to give the crowd a nail biting game. A cavalcade of turnovers allowed the Hawks to go on a 10-0 in less than two minutes, punctuated by an Ahmad Nivins (3 pts, 5 reb) jumper in the lane. Nivins was a major concern coming into the game, but SU's interior defense was much improved from Monday.
The downside was that the perimeter defense was much worse. St. Joes hit on over 40% of there three point attempts, knocking down 11 of 26 as the vaunted 2-3 zone was repeatedly knocked out of whack due to strong ball reversal and passing. The Hawks' marksmen did most of their damage from the corners, where both Donte Greene and Paul Harris seemed to take turns blowing assignments. Fortunately SU never fell behind by more than two points and late game scoring surges by Arinze Onuaku and Donte Greene helped set up Flynn's eventual game-winner.
Overall, the Orange(men) were a tad bit better with the ball tonight, cutting their turnover number down from 23 to 17. They also continued to rebound the ball well, posting a +7 margin on the glass. The free throw shooting was disappointing (63%), as was the fact that several SU players seemed to settle for long jumpers rather than attempt to put pressure on the St. Joe's defense with dribble penetration. Still, the end result was a victory and a chance to play two more spotlight games. You can't complain about that...
Jonny Flynn - He certainly wasn't as stellar tonight as he was last night, but he made the big shot when it counted most. He posted an excellent 6:1 Ast to TO ratio while the rest of his teammates were busy throwing the ball away 16 times. Overall he did a decent job controlling the tempo and keeping SU in command for the most part, but until late in the game he didn't seem to have the assertive attitude that was so obvious on Monday. Fortunately, he came up big down the stretch with two beautiful assists to Onuaku and a crazy wrap-around pass to Greene for a fastbreak dunk (I'm still trying to figure out how he saw Greene, given that a defender was in his field of vision). Add to that a pair of free throws and the clutch triple, and it is easier to forgive his embarrassing shot miss at the one minute mark.
Eric Devendorf - Devo was a bit out of sorts tonight, scoring only 12 points while committing 4 turnovers. However, he did make one of the most important plays of the game when he hustled back on defense and rebounded Darrin Govens missed breakaway layup. Eric got into good position and managed to not only pull in the rebound, but draw a foul on Pat Calathes in the process. Although he hit only one of two free throws, every point counted down the stretch. Devo also had a clutch drive/draw/dish play late in the game where he found Harris for a knifing layup. He missed some open shots late in the game that he needs to hit, but we can excuse an occasional off day. Hopefully he will get back to being more aggressive by the time the 'Cuse rolls into New York.
Paul Harris - This kid is the type of guy that you HATE if he's on the other team. I mean, you really HATE him, because it seems like he gets to every loose ball, constantly props up his teammates with encouragement, and has a knack for making big momentum-changing plays. I mean, he really grates on your nerves this guy... Fortunately, he's on our team and not the opponent's. True, he's also got a knack for committing more than the occasional brain fart (see: "I told you to miss the last shot!!!!!!"). True, his turnovers are way too high and some of his shot selection is questionable, but the way he controls the glass during "winning time" is just a thing of beauty. 29 rebounds in 2 games. Wow. He also added 6 assists and is starting to live up to his nickname of Do-It-All Paul and show why he was such a coveted recruit a year ago. If Boeheim can somehow get him to channel his energies into more focused play, he (and the rest of the Orange) will have a great year.
Donte Greene - Tied Paul Harris as the team's leading scorer. He didn't have the greatest shooting game, but he made enough to help guide SU to victory. He was lackadaisical on the defensive end for the second straight game, failing to get back into his position in the zone a number times. He is going to have to improve on his transition D and positioning as the season wears on. He pulled in 8 boards, including a few important rebounds late in the game, and also went inside for offense when SU really needed it. Simply put, this kid is a tremendous talent and should have a very good freshman year.
Arinze Onuaku - The Big O (Part Deux) scored a career high for the second game in a row, pouring in 17 points. He caught every pass thrown his way and almost always got a clean shot up on the glass. He still needs to improve his conditioning, free throw shooting, and footwork on the defensive end, but he is just scratching the surface of his offensive potential. Needs to remember not to commit too far out in the zone, as he left the middle unattended for St. Joe's putbacks on a few occasions.
Rick Jackson - Made a short cameo and showed a nice post move with another lefty-flip shot. Got beat on the glass a few times, but overall his PT was so limited that it was tough to gauge his play. It doesn't seem like too much of a dropoff between him and Onuaku, so I'd like to see him get a few more minutes to help keep the Big O fresh.
Kristof Ongenaet - Had two boards in limited minutes and a nice save of a ball going out of bounds, but he also missed a point-blank layup and turned the ball over. Hopefully we'll get more of a chance to see what he can do once the Orange are done with the Preseason NIT.
Scoop Jardine - Another tough outing for Scoop, as he had a shot blocked and threw the ball away within seconds of getting into the game. He did have a nice open court steal though.
Final Notes: This was a big victory, as it ensures Syracuse of two more non-conference games that will be showcased on ESPN. Any time you can add "name" opponents to your schedule, you've done something right. The Orange will now take on the Buckeyes of Ohio State on Wednesday the 21st. Should they win that game, they will play for the PNIT championship against an undisclosed opponent (at the time of writing).