Commentary

Cuse's Boeheim enjoys the last laugh

Jim Boeheim led the Orange past G'town, proving he's the Big East's true survivor

Updated: March 16, 2013, 11:07 AM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Jim Boeheim was not going out quietly, not even close, not when he could celebrate one last Big East tournament conquest of Georgetown by reprimanding its patriarch, John Thompson II, a frenemy who had tweaked him one time too many.

"I don't like what he says after games," Boeheim said Friday night after Syracuse needed overtime to bounce the top-seeded Hoyas, now coached by Big John's son. Thompson had just crossed paths with the Syracuse coach in the Garden, had just kidded with Boeheim that he'd been at this racket for far too long.

"This is too long," Boeheim agreed.

"You'll never make it," Thompson responded.

"I know, I'll never make it," Boeheim said.

Only the banter wasn't so cute and civil in 1980, the first year of the Big East, when Thompson snapped Syracuse's 57-game home winning streak and punctuated the last meeting of the pre-Carrier Dome era by declaring, "Manley Field House is officially closed." It wasn't so cute and civil in the Verizon Center last week, either, when the elder Thompson notarized John III's 61-39 destruction of the ACC-bound Orange by barking that the Hoyas could "kiss Syracuse goodbye."

So there was Boeheim outside his Garden locker room on Friday night, telling reporters that John III would never talk John II's talk and rejecting the notion that John II's kiss of death in D.C. was meant to be something of a joke.

[+] EnlargeJim Boeheim
Tony Spinelli/ESPNOrange coach Jim Boeheim maintained his signature stance for most of Syracuse's 58-55 overtime win over old rival Georgetown.

"He wasn't kidding," Boeheim said. "I like John, but you can like somebody and not like what they say sometimes. I just didn't like what he said. I didn't think it was good. That's just my opinion."

Coaching in the final hours of the Big East as we know it, a conference he helped build with Big John and Dave Gavitt and the rest, Boeheim was full of opinions. If he was a bit high on life, it was understandable. Syracuse had just avenged its two earlier losses to Georgetown and had refused to let the Catholic 7 heavyweight send it reeling on the way out of town and toward Tobacco Road.

Boeheim blamed the usual football suspects for deep-sixing the league, for compelling Syracuse to flee to Krzyzewskiville and forcing the Catholic 7 basketball schools to go back to the future, reclaiming the Big East name and the Garden stage, where the South Floridas are welcome no more.

"If it wasn't for football," the Syracuse coach said, "we would've had a league that would've just dominated. If we stayed at nine teams ... we would've had all the players in the Northeast. It would've been ridiculous."

When he wasn't criticizing Georgetown's former coach, Boeheim was praising its current star. He wasn't just calling Otto Porter his personal No. 1 pick in the draft ("I wouldn't even look at anybody else"), he was also building an unconvincing case that Porter represents the most complete small forward in conference history, including Chris Mullin and a certain gimpy, headband-wearing Knick who won Boeheim his championship ring.

Carmelo Anthony was too busy tending to his bum knee and battered team to make it to the Garden, but Derrick Coleman, Pearl Washington, John Wallace and Billy Owens covered for him. They were there to see the 68-year-old Boeheim make a final stand against Thompson's more embraceable son, John III, whose Hoyas rallied to force overtime but couldn't overcome Porter's 4-for-13 night from the floor or his bad pass in traffic in the dying seconds.

It was a great night of college basketball, one that summoned the glories of the old Big East. "It's a shame they're heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more," John III said of Syracuse, a line ripped from the John II playbook.

Dressed in a blue blazer and gray slacks, the bespectacled Boeheim spent much of this semifinal with his arms crossed, looking like a high school principal disapproving of this and that. He allowed himself a quick fist pump or two when his famous 2-3 zone swallowed up Georgetown's shooters, or when Baye Keita, a 48 percent foul shooter, went 7-for-7 from the line.

Boeheim needed 10 first-half points out of left field from a reserve named Trevor Cooney, and he needed James Southerland to keep making 3s the way Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara used to make them. But in the end, it was fitting that the game required an extra five minutes, and fitting that Boeheim survived them.

An assistant at Syracuse during the Nixon administration, head coach since 1976, Boeheim outlasted Big John, Looie Carnesecca, Rollie Massimino, Jim Calhoun, Patrick Ewing and Patrick Ewing Jr. He outlasted NCAA probation, six overtimes against UConn and a legion of critics who doubted he'd make it to 200 victories, never mind 900.

"I was just hoping to make it four or five years," Boeheim said Friday night. "I just wanted to get to a second contract. And if you've watched and listened recently, you know that people are talking about me and saying, 'He's too old, get somebody else in there.' They were talking about that in Syracuse.

"But I don't pay attention to it anymore. I'm probably OK at Syracuse now. I think I'm safe, at least until tomorrow night."

Outside the winners' locker room, Boeheim was reminded of his comments to ESPNNewYork.com in 2011 when he said the end of his career was "getting closer and closer" and that he would be retired within four years.

"There's no question the thought [of retiring] pops into the back of your mind," Boeheim said. "But during the season, you can't make a decision like that. Once the summer comes, you start thinking about it and see how you feel."

Boeheim was asked if it were possible he could decide this summer to retire. "The reason I don't say it's definite that I'll coach next year is I never liked it when people say something and don't do it. But I don't have any thoughts right now of not coaching."

He'd just beaten Georgetown, after all, in the last game he'd ever coach against a classic Big East rival. Syracuse will play Louisville for the title Saturday night, but Louisville -- also booked for the ACC -- never really belonged. This is one case in which the final can't compare to the semi.

Syracuse and Georgetown have each played 78 Big East tournament games since '80 and they'd won a combined 12 tournament titles. The Hoyas had (sort of) closed down the Carrier Dome 33 years after they closed down Manley, and then they humiliated the Orange in D.C.

Fate and a few fortunate bounces delivered Georgetown to Boeheim one more time in the Garden, one more time for the road. "You don't want to lose to your rival three times in the same year," he said. "I thought it was important for us to win this game."

So the Orange won it, allowing their Ichabod Crane-ish coach to knock a little sand into Big John's face. Just for kicks, of course. Just to remind everybody that the Big East's true survivor, the last of the originals, was standing on the Syracuse side of the gym.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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