Texas finished 26-7 but the Horns fell two wins short of their ultimate goal.
"No one wants to go out like this, one game from the championship game," Ford said postgame. "Overall, we had a great season. We proved a lot of people wrong. We did a lot of things that have never been done in Texas basketball history. We've got to be proud of our team and proud of ourselves. We went out and played the best we could. It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to, but you have to give it up to Syracuse, they're a great team."
The Orangemen had an answer for everything the Horns threw at them, both offensively and defensively. Syracuse shot 57.1 percent from the field to UT's 42.9 percent. From the arc, 'Cuse knocked down 53.8 percent while Texas managed 47.6 percent. From the line, the Orangemen bested the Horns 77.4 percent to 62.5 percent overall and by a whoppin' 83.3 percent to 59.1 percent in the decisive second half. The team in the light orange outrebounded the team in the Burnt Orange 37-34. And Syracuse, averaging over 17 turnovers a game during their tourney run, had just 13 in the semifinal game to UT's 14 (three more than its tourney average). About the only area that Texas ended up with an advantage was in assists at 20-14, with 13 of the 20 coming from the passes of Ford. But the sophomore point guard could not overcome the true freshman forward.
Ford finished with 12 points. Brandon Mouton led the Horns with 25 points (including 20 in the first half). Brad Buckman, James Thomas and Brian Boddicker also hit double figures with 14, 13 and 12, respectively. Royal Ivey scored just four on a dreadful one of eight from the field. Sydmill Harris struggled with his stroke as well, making just one of five, all attempts from downtown. The only other Longhorn to scratch the scoring column was Jason Klotz with a lone point. Deginald Erskin missed his only field goal attempt of the game, a layup that could have cut Syracuse's 84-78 lead to four with just over a minute to play. Texas did cut it to four on its next possession, 85-81, but after a couple of Orangemen free throws pushed the score to 87-81, Harris missed a three that could have made it a one possession game. Syracuse stretched it from there, including a dunk-attempt-turned-layup by Anthony. Even when he screwed up, things went right for the stud frosh.
Asked about Anthony, Ivey, his defensive shadow much of the game, called him the "hardest defensive job I had since I've been in college. Six-eight, explosive, strong. Shoot over you, drive you. Spin move. Everything. He's a great player."
At different times during the game, Mouton, Harris and Erskin also drew the assignment, but, despite facing solid, often in-your-face D, Anthony's offensive onslaught could not be stopped. He hit 12 of 19 from the field, including three of four from beyond the arc. He knocked down three of four from the line. And he played the entire second half without picking up a foul after going to the bench late in the first half with three.
Anthony's third came on a Klotz rebound with 46.6 seconds left till the half and the Orangemen up by four, 46-42. Klotz hit just one of two attempts (a common occurrence on the night for the Horns) to cut the lead to three. Hakim Warrick's dunk moved the Syracuse lead back to five, but an Ivey runner in the lane sent the Horns to the lockerroom trailing by just three, 48-45.
Texas took its first lead of the game 47 seconds into the second half. Following Ford's 18-footer on its opening possession, the Longhorn D forced a turnover on the Orangemen's first chance and, on the other end of the floor, T.J. drew a foul on a drive, sending him to the line for two free throws, which he nailed. Texas 49, Syracuse 48.
Anthony, though, remained virtually unstoppable. After pouring in 16 in the first half, he scored the Orangemen's first 11 points after the break, answering each and every time Texas took a lead or pulled even. At 49-48, Texas, Anthony scored despite tough defense from Ivey and then, next time down the court, he followed a Warrick miss to put 'Cuse up 52-49. After a T.J. 10-footer, UT's standout freshman Buckman, playing perhaps his best game of the season, scored inside to make it 53-52. But Anthony hit a closely-guarded three for another Orangemen lead.
The game remained close over the next few minutes with Texas taking a 61-59 lead on a Mouton trey. The Horns, with the lead and a bit of momentum, switched to a triangle defense, prompting Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to call a timeout to stem the Texas tide and attack UT's new defensive look with a different personnel set. The move worked. Syracuse scored the game's next seven points and the Horns could never completely close the gap, trailing by four or more the remainder of the night.
"Tonight, we were beaten by a team that played great basketball," Rick Barnes said. "They made plays when they had to. We went through a stretch where we went 2-8 from the free throw line when we had a chance to do something with the game. Those plays hurt us. Again, when they had to make a play, they did."
Syracuse made plays from the opening tip, jumping on top 4-zip. Texas knotted it at six on a pair of Mouton treys, but after the Horns tied it up at 8 with Mouton's 15-foot jumper off the dribble, the Orangemen scored eight straight points, doubling Texas at the 15-minute mark of the opening period. UT trimmed the lead back to four on two Ford penetrations (one resulted in two foul shots for Mouton and the other two foul shots for Ford) but 'Cuse quickly answered, opening up its largest lead of the game to that point at 21-12 on a Josh Pace bucket in the lane and a Gerry McNamara three.
The Horns fought for the rest of the half to get back to even.
A Mouton three pointer, followed two possessions later by a rare Ford trey cut the Syracuse lead to three, 23-20, but, as they did throughout the half, the Orangemen answered. After a couple of free throws by Jeremy McNeil, Anthony pushed the margin back to eight, 28-20, with a three-pointer of his own. Texas again trimmed the deficit to four with scores on consecutive trips, but Anthony again nailed a three to temporarily thwart the Longhorns' momentum just past the midway point of the half.
Buckman brought the Horns back to within four with an old-fashioned three point play but Billy Edelin's baseline drive and bucket seconds later again pushed the margin to six. Buckman earned another inside score on a beautiful entry pass from Ivey to make it 33-29. After Buckman's bucket, T.J. looked to have turned in a defensive gem by planting himself in front of a charging Anthony, but the refs whistled Ford for the foul, counting the Syracuse freshman's score and sending him to the line, where he completed the three-point play. The foul, his second, sent T.J. to the bench with the score 36-29 at 7:24 to play, where he stayed until 3:10 to go in the half with the score 44-38. The Horns' sophomore point guard stayed on the floor for just over a minute before returning to the bench with 2:04 to play. He did not return until the start of the second half and accumulated just 14 first half minutes. He was on the floor for 19 minutes in the second half.
"I don't know if they can play any better than they played tonight," the Texas head coach said of the Orangemen. "Overall, when they needed to make a big play, they made it."
On this night, for one of the few times all season, Texas did not.