I’m trying to be an optimist, to not be angry or upset or bitter, to take pride and satisfaction and enjoyment in this team making a Final Four; I’m trying to be an adult. And the best the way I know how to do that is to not think about this game, because when I do, it’s tough to be mature.
If you would’ve told me that before the game Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Nik Stauskas would combine to shoot 5-29 from the field, that Glenn Robinson III wouldn’t be a factor in the high post, that Mitch McGary would have a (relatively) quiet second half, that Fair and Triche would both play well on offense, that SU and Michigan would have an equivalent number of turnovers, that the Orange would only lose the rebound battle by four, and that SU would shoot a higher percentage from the free throw line than Michigan, and then asked me to guess the outcome, I probably would’ve predicted SU to win by double digits.
But as we know, those statistics only tell part of the story. They don’t explain how bad Michael Carter-Williams was on offense, or how bad James Southerland shot the ball and rebounded, nor do they speak to the bounces that didn’t go Syracuse’s way, or the questionable calls, or the squandered opportunities, or the foul trouble, or McGary suddenly showing an ability to knock down midrange jumpers, block shots, and pass as well as any big man I’ve seen this season (not to mention the work he did on the glass, which I was expecting). And obviously they don’t speak to what was the real X-factor in the game, Michigan’s bench.
The Wolverines got 21 points from their reserves on 7-9 shooting (4-5 from three). I was not expecting that. I was not expecting Caris LeVert, a 28.2% three point shooter, to make two out of his three 3 point attempts, plus a 19 footer for good measure. In truth, I didn’t even know who LeVert was. I was not expecting Albrecht, a 5’11” 170 lbs freshman, to even be in the game, let alone make two huge three pointers. That Syracuse got 11 points from its bench (on 5-8 shooting) and that Grant was a beast on the glass and played good defense, and that Cooney actually made a three, almost was enough to negate the contributions from Michigan’s bench. Almost, but in the end, the bad breaks were just a few too many.
The adult in me is proud that Boeheim didn’t panic at halftime, that he wisely realized that Michigan had hit two 30 footers and that LeVert had scored eight points on shots 19 feet or further from the hoop, that while the commentators talked about John Beilein putting on a coaching clinic, the reality was that defense was not Syracuse’s problem, that Boeheim had the confidence to stay the course and just make a few slight tweaks to the game plan (attack the hoop and don’t settle for jumpers, hit the glass harder, make McGary beat us from the elbow or foul him if he’s underneath), and to his credit, Syracuse came back and had a chance to win this game.
Did Boeheim make any mistakes? Sure, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why he took Fair out of the game when he was the only guy scoring for us early, especially to put in Keita, Cooney, and Grant at the same time. Not surprisingly the offense went stale, MCW forced two bad shots, and we lost our lead. There was the alley-oop Triche threw out of bounds directly after a timeout that I can only hope wasn’t what he had drawn up in the huddle. And while Michigan did a pretty good job taking care of the ball (only 10 turnovers), Syracuse held them to 39.6% shooting from the field and 33% from three. The zone did its job on defense. The real problem was a problem this team has struggled with all season; it wasn’t a “bad offense”—the high percentage shots were there—but rather, an inability to make those shots with any consistency.
The adult in me is proud of this team, their season, and the fight they showed in the second half of last night’s game. The adult in me wants to say that the bad calls (or at the very least wildly inconsistent whistles) are part of the game and not worth worrying about. The adult in me doesn’t want to blame MCW or James, or say that if even one of those guys had played “just okay” on offense, we would’ve won.
So it suffices to say, the adult in me can only exist if I don’t think about this game anymore. Because when I do, that hot-head 13 year old (who cried hysterically and had a minor melt-down after Lawrence Moten’s timeout in the ’95 Arkansas game) wants to come out. So I’m moving on. I had a healthy chat with one of my best friends directly after the game ended and we both did our best to make one another feel good about this season. Afterwards, I watched Orange Glory and happily reminisced about all the good times I’ve had with Syracuse basketball, the Georgia Sweet 16 game in ’96, Gerry’s run in the Big East Tournament, the 6OT game, and of course Carmelo and the National Championship.
I turned 31 a couple weeks ago. I love Syracuse basketball as much or more than I ever have, but my days of freakouts and superstitions and beliefs that somehow my fandom affects the team in some deep cosmic way are slowly but surely going by the wayside. Last night, I had a little sacrifice to the basketball gods planned, some grizzle leftover from a steak reserved for my dog, Keita, that I was going to give her as a reward if and only if Baye played a good game. I gave it to her anyway. I’m trying to be an adult. I really am.Nate Federman