Posted on October 13 2019
The Chucker, High Volume Shooters’ resident historian, dives into Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s greatest defeat and finest moment.
On March 30, 1987, Syracuse entered its first national title game in New Orleans. Across the way, the Orange saw one of the game’s bluebloods in Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers, a program that had four national titles to its credit, including two in the previous nine seasons.
Victory, however, evaded the upstart Orange, as Keith Smart’s 16-foot corner jumper with 4 seconds left gave the Hoosiers a 74-73 victoryand the title in front of 64,959 fans at the Louisiana Superdome.
Syracuse head coach JimBoeheim tried to console his players.
“It came down to the last shot and they happened to have it. You did everything you could to win,” Boeheim said.
Deep down, however, Boeheim, a former Syracuse walk-on, had to wonder if the Orange hadn’t let a historic opportunity slip away. Syracuse shot 11 of 20 from the line and missed critical free throws in the final minutes. The Orange also struggled to consistently mind Indiana senior sharpshooter Steve Alford, who drained 7 of 10 three-pointers en route to his 23-point finale. (Of note, the ’87 edition of the NCAA Tournament was the first to use the three-point shot as well as the first to feature the now traditional “One Shining Moment” epilogue.)
“I thought our kids did everything we asked them to,” Boeheim said postgame.
Had one, indeed, slipped away? Trips to the national title game are rare accomplishments and history is littered with the names of fine coaches who never reached one title game, let alone two. Would Boeheim ever get another chance?
Following 1987’s loss, Syracuse returned to the title game in 1996 only to be overpowered by a Kentucky squad that featured nine future NBA players.
Heading into the Millennium, Boeheim, who took the reins of Syracuse in 1976 and regularly notched 20-win seasons, carried a reputation as a brilliant tactician who had pushed the Orange into the game’s elite yet nevertheless failed to win the big game.
That all changed on April 7, 2003, when Boeheim and the Orange were back in New Orleans,staring down another one of college basketball’s bluebloods, the Kansas Jayhawks, whose hardwood history included revered names like Phog Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, and Dr. James Naismith.
Freshman Gerry McNamara dropped 18 points in the first half before fellow freshman Carmelo Anthony commanded the second half, scoring 20 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 7 assists as the ‘Cuse downed Kansas 81-78.
“We played the best first half we could play, and then we just hung on,” Boeheimsaid of the victory that deprived another well-regarded coach, Roy Williams, of his first national title.
Sixteen years prior at the Louisiana Superdome, Smart’s jumper had delivered the most crushing blow of Boeheim’s tenure. When the final buzzer sounded on April 7, 2003, present euphoria consumed the pain of the past as Boeheim earned his.
“I think this building kind of owed us one,” Boeheim said.
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