Mar 25, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Saturday afternoon passed into Saturday evening. Hours and minutes passed. Nerves clashed with excitement, everyone from diehard fan to casual follower aware of the contest, the stakes, the meaning of this night.
No mere basketball game was taking place. Not to us in Central New York, for we had taken this latest edition of Syracuse men’s basketball and placed them deep into our hearts, lavishing our praises and decrying all the outside forces that, willingly or not, wanted to bring them down.
A win here over Ohio State in the NCAA East Regional final in Boston, and the ecstasy would be impossible to contain. Both on the university hill and elsewhere across the region, fans put on their orange gear, cheered, screamed, groaned and prayed for deliverance, yearned to see their heroes play one more weekend in New Orleans.
Instead, it ended Buckeyes 77, Orange 70, numbers that provoked despair, disappointment and, in some quarters, outright anger. Many pointed the blaming finger at the stripes, of course, and given the 49 fouls and one T given to Jim Boeheim, the game did lack the pulsating rhythm an occasion like this should merit.
All of that is wasted energy, though. True, a few less whistles allow both teams to play the way they wanted from start to finish, but even with that, there’s no guarantee that SU wins.
There were too many rushed shots, too few rebounds, no real exploitation of the long first-half absence of Jared Sullinger. Deep in his heart, Boeheim likely knew this, so in the aftermath he didn’t waste time excoriating officials, though no one in Orange would have blamed him if he did.
My own emotions, as an SU alum that so badly wanted this team to get to New Orleans, were shaky all night. For a couple of hours, I stopped being that cold, impartial writer and morphed into a fan that exulted with every basket, cringed at every mistake and yanked whatever was left of my hair at the (many) fouls.
Yet as it wound down, and it was apparent that Ohio State was triumphant, the acceptance of defeat, and closure, arrived quickly, and that was healthy. It meant that perspective had not been lost, that the next day would dawn and the wounds would heal.
In truth, the SU program spent the 2011-12 season wounded and hurt. From the Bernie Fine accusations to the messy lame-duck status within the Big East to drug use accusations to the premature exit of Fab Melo, so many times the Orange had the ready-made excuses lined up in case the foundations began to crumble.
You also got a sense, as the season wore on, that people outside of Central New York were openly pulling for that collapse to happen. They wanted to see Boeheim get slapped down (or even fired), wished for some sort of karmic failure that would serve as punishment for sins of the past, real or imagined.
So like all great teams, the core – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita – found strength in each other and spent an entire (mild) winter warming Syracuse’s collective hearts.
They were, in the most fundamental of terms, a team, not caring one bit which player had the hot hand or the headlines the next day, so long as there was another entry in the win column – and 34 would pile up, some of them romps, others much closer.
Still, to win it all, everyone had to be present, or the magic would run out. Thus, Melo’s school-enforced exit on the eve of the NCAA Dance proved the fatal blow, just as Arinze Onuaku’s injury in 2010 derailed a real shot at the big prize. It just took four rounds for the reality to set in.
So, with that reality in place, what happens in 2012-13? Jardine and Waiters exit. Melo is surely gone, and Waiters might follow, too, if the possibility of an NBA first-round pick proves too good to resist.
That still leaves Triche, Fair, Christmas, Southerland and Keita among the core, with Michael Carter-Williams assuming a larger role and a strong freshman class, led by the big and imposing Dajuan Coleman from Jamesville-DeWitt, ready to contribute, too.
In other words, we might find ourselves right back here in 12 months’ time, our collective breaths held, wishing this time for an Orange appearance in Atlanta. That might be asking too much, but better to have that hope than not have any dreams at all.