Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim earned his fourth trip to the Final Four, and this one may have been his most unlikely, especially given what his team went through right here on March 9, when Georgetown cut down the nets to celebrate its share of the Big East regular season title.
Syracuse and Boeheim will happily take these nets and let the Hoyas have the other ones. In fact, many of the Syracuse players — including Michael Carter-Williams, voted the East Region’s most outstanding player — said they believed what happened here three Saturdays ago against Hoyas led to what happened here during the last 48 hours.
“We had lost several games in a row [four of five, actually], but we never took it personally,” Carter-Williams said in his team’s euphoric locker room. “That one we did take personally. We were embarrassed. We heard all the Georgetown people saying ‘it’s over,’ and reminding us about closing Manley Field House all those years ago. It might have been the best thing that happened to us because it really got our attention. It hurt.
“Coach told us at practice the next day that it was our season and we can lay down and it will be over quickly in the first round or we can make a run at it.” He smiled. “We went from there.”
They went from there to the Big East championship game — following an overtime win over Georgetown in the semifinals — before losing to Louisville. Then they made their run: routing Montana and beating California in San Jose before coming here and dominating two very good basketball teams: top-seeded Indiana on Thursday and Marquette. In both games, they trailed only once: at 3-2.
“Our zone was as active in these two games as it’s ever been,” said Boeheim, who staved off his family’s annual trip to Disney World for at least another week with the victory. “We’ve played very good defense all year long but these two games it’s been about as good as it’s ever been.”
On Thursday, Syracuse’s assistant coaches had joked that they had beaten Indiana with a 3-2-2 zone, sneaking extra men onto the court. It looked like that again Saturday.
“When you shoot 12 of 53 it isn’t as simple as saying that you weren’t making shots,” Marquette Coach Buzz Williams said. “When we get beat, we get beat. I thought they were great from start to finish.”