Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Champ Week 2013 [Print without images]

Friday, March 15, 2013
In the end, this rivalry mattered

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- As you might guess from his sideline demeanor, which hovers somewhere between pensive and peeved, Jim Boeheim isn't much for grand pregame fanfare or dramatic "win one for the Gipper" speeches.

So when he took a few minutes to explain to his players the essence of the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry before the two teams met in the Big East Tournament semifinals, his players' ears perked up a little bit.

Syracuse Celebration
Syracuse players celebrate after winning the chance to play Saturday for the conference title.

"He told us that this isn't just about us, that's about the alumni and the people who played before us, the fans who support us,'' Michael Carter-Williams said. "And he told us what was said after the game, what their past coach said and we took that personally.''

That would be John Thompson III's postgame proclamation from Washington D.C. last week after the Hoyas routed the Orange. He said that Georgetown could 'kiss Syracuse goodbye."

"I didn't like that very much,'' Boeheim said. "We're good friends, but I didn't like that but that's John. He's going to say what he's going to say.''

Time isn't likely to silence the old coach. What will?

But for now, his declaration will be somewhat muted. The Orange got the last laugh, beating Georgetown in a game that did the old rivalry proud, a white-knuckle 58-55 overtime game that had Madison Square Garden as loud and electric as it's been in its 31-year Big East Tournament run.

"Classic,'' said Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara, who has participated in a few of those himself. "That was classic. I'm so glad these guys got a chance to experience what this game is really about.''

In their final year in the league, the Orange will play Louisville to attempt to win their sixth Big East Tournament title on Saturday night.

They got there by route of a taut drama, a hard Georgetown comeback that only ended after Jabril Trawick's last-second heave clanked off the backboard.

"Fitting that it went into overtime? Yeah it is,'' Thompson said. "It's a shame that they're heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more. This is a rivalry that means a lot to our program and to their program and to this conference. I could give you my spiel about intercollegiate athletics going through an evolution and this is just part of it and you heard me say that. But it's a shame that we are no longer going to have the same type of relationship.''

For the past week -- or really the past two years since Syracuse announced it was headed to the ACC -- Boeheim has insisted that he doesn't have much time to dwell on his Big East farewell tour. He would save it for summer afternoons or evenings, or at best, the last minute he walks off the Garden court.

Jim Boheim
Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team has revived its play in time for the Big East Tournament.

He reiterated the sentiment on Friday night, insisting that between three kids and a basketball team, "I don't have a lot of time to reminisce.''

But clearly this one mattered to the coach, enough so that he wanted his players to understand it, mattered enough that McNamara, one of his player heroes, took time to tell his guard charges just how much it mattered to him and should matter to them.

"Oh I made sure my guards understood,'' he said. "I let them know how I felt about it and I'm pretty sure they know it now.''

History eventually is little more than a piece of paper, a footnote in a record book. That's where this game, at least in its conference context, is headed. It's for the old-timers to cherish and remember, and while this generation now has its own chapter, the truth is, players aren't concerned much about history.

They're more interested in the here and now.

Which put this game against Georgetown -- and really this whole trip to New York for Syracuse -- in the middle of a very interesting intersection of then and now.

This game mattered as much for today as it does for all the yesterdays.

Syracuse limped into New York, its offensive game a befuddled mess. The Orange lost four of their final five and looked progressively worse doing it, averaging a measly 52.5 points in those losses. The lone win came against DePaul, which didn't really allow anyone the false security that Syracuse's issues were solved.

"The players still had confidence, but they shouldn't have with the way they were playing,'' Boeheim said.

New York has a way of curing what ails the Orange. It was here, of course, where McNamara led a ridiculously impossible run in 2006, lifting Syracuse from out of the NCAA tournament to the Big East Tournament title and an automatic bid.

And it is here again, one more time for old time's sake, that Syracuse appears to be rediscovering its groove. It's not that the Orange have scored a lot -- against Pitt and Georgetown that's just not going to happen -- but they've looked better, more fluid and productive.

Brandon Triche, who was borderline dreadful at the end of the season, is 15-of-27 in this tournament and 5-of-12 from the arc (he'd been 0 for his previous 10).

Meantime, James Southerland is on top of the leaderboard for the tournament's most outstanding player. With four 3-pointers against the Hoyas, he has 16, tying McNamara for most in BET history. And he still has a game to play.

"Even if you're a good team, this tournament can help you,'' Boeheim said. "But we really needed this. We probably needed it more than we ever have.''

Only a week ago Syracuse lost to Georgetown, 61-39, in what was billed as the last game between the two teams.

It looked like curtains for the Orange, as well as the rivalry.

Instead Syracuse revived itself and Madison Square Garden worked its magic, pitting the two against one another under the bright lights.

The Big East version of the game is over now, once and for all, and maybe someday Jim Boeheim will go all-in reflection instead of just quick pregame historical tutorial.

But not right now.

The speeches, as brief and rare as they are, are over.

Right now he has a reborn team to worry about.