March 12, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) - Gerry McNamara was a big part of Syracuse's national championship as a freshman in 2003. Four years later, the guard was the runaway MVP in the Orange's surprising Big East tournament title run.
Syracuse repeated as conference champions by beating No. 15 Pittsburgh 65-61 on Saturday night. It was the first time in the Orange's record four victories that they didn't need late-game heroics from McNamara.
It was sophomore Josh Wright who clinched the title win, making four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
But it was still McNamara's tournament.
"Gerry had as good a four games here as anybody I've ever seen," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He just wanted to win."
Syracuse became the lowest-seeded team to win the Big East tournament - the Orange came in at No. 9 - and the third school to repeat, joining Georgetown in 1985 and Connecticut in 1999.
The Orange (23-11) arrived in New York this week with their chances of claiming an at-large NCAA tournament berth as on the bubble as a team can get. They are leaving with an automatic bid and a folk hero.
"For us to come down here in the situation we were in and win is impressive," McNamara said. "We won it so I guess I was pretty motivated we all were. This is the toughest year I've played and for us to battle they way we did and win this, like Coach said it's one of the greatest. We won it last year but it was a different story we were a team that had a great regular season and we had a team that was experienced and this year we were knew and we came down here and got it going.
"We were on the outside looking in coming down here and now there's a lot of teams looking at us."
McNamara, who was as obvious an MVP selection as any tournament has ever had, won the first-round game against Cincinnati with a 3-pointer with less than a second to play. He tied the quarterfinal game against top-ranked Connecticut with 5 seconds left in regulation and the Orange won in overtime.
In the semifinal win over No. 23 Georgetown, he hit a late 3 to bring the Orange within one, then made the pass on the winning basket and forced a turnover on the Hoyas' final possession.
In the championship against Pittsburgh (24-7), he had 14 points and six assists. He had three 3-pointers, giving him a tournament-record 16.
"Some guys win one game once in a while in a year, or two," Boeheim said, "I don't anybody's ever won four in a row by making the play in the game. That's pretty special."
The crowd of 19,594 at Madison Square Garden was chanting his name throughout the game, and many more than that will claim over the years they were in the building to see some part of what will become known as "McNamara's Tournament."
It was Syracuse's fifth Big East tournament title, one behind Georgetown and Connecticut for the most. The four wins came by a total of eight points with Saturday's win the blowout of the group.
The Panthers also won three games to get to the title game for the fifth time in six years. Pittsburgh's only championship was in 2003. None of the first three teams to win three games to get to the title game ever won the championship. Now Syracuse has.
"At this point, we're obviously disappointed," Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. "We put ourselves in a good position at the end of the game but we came up a little short. I'm so proud of how we battled. We got better this week."
Demetris Nichols had 15 points for Syracuse, which has won four in a row after closing the regular season with three straight losses, while Terrence Roberts added 13.
Carl Krauser had 16 points and five assists for the Panthers, while Aaron Gray had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Antonio Graves added 14 points.
Syracuse took a 34-25 halftime lead as the Panthers struggled against the Orange's 2-3 zone. Pittsburgh shot 27.6 percent in the first half (8-for-29) and despite more success inside in the second half, only managed to go 20-for-60 for the game, well off their 45.6 mark for the season.
The inside success keyed a 14-3 run that got the Panthers the lead at 48-47 with 8:34 to play.
"We didn't shoot it great tonight and a lot of that has to do with the zone," Dixon said. "I thought we got the ball inside when we wanted to. I thought we did a good job attacking but don't read too much into it. It was two teams playing hard and we came up a little bit short."
McNamara's last 3-pointer of the game ended a 4 1/2-minute field goal drought for the Orange and gave them the lead for good at 50-48 with 8:18 to go.
"It wasn't a surprise he was doing it all week long," Roberts said of McNamara's 3 that gave the Orange the lead right back. "It gave us an emotional lift. For him to hit that shot in the situation we were in was a key for us."
Graves made two free throws with 18 seconds left to bring Pitt to 61-58, but converted both ends of a 1-and-1 a second later to make it a five-point lead.
Krauser hit a 3-pointer with 7.7 seconds left to get the Panthers within one possession again, but Wright again converted a 1-and-1 for the final margin.
Wright's points were his only ones of the game and the only points Syracuse got from a nonstarter.
"For Josh Wright, who hadn't played much, to do what he did was outstanding," Boeheim said. "We needed all four of those and it took a lot of guts for him to get all four."
Gerry McNamara, of Syracuse