Orange Watch: Part I, 40 seasons of highs, lows in Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim’s career

Syracuse was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament
Approaching his staggering 40th season, there isn’t much Jim Boeheim hasn’t come across patrolling the Syracuse sidelines

(Editor’s note: Over the summer, leading up to the 2015 football preview series in late August, Orange Watch will highlight various antidotes related to Syracuse athletics.)

One of the most interesting numerical notes of Jim Boeheim’s soon-to-be 40th season coaching Syracuse basketball is the fact that two of the three seniors on his initial 1976-77 squad, guards Larry Kelley and Jim (Don’t Call Me) “Bug” Williams are now age 60 or older (reserve center Bob Parker died in 2006 at age 51), only some 11 years younger than the coach himself who will turn 71 in November. That’s a long career in any industry, and it doesn’t even count the additional seven years he served as a graduate and full-time assistant coach under his predecessor Roy Danforth.

Having covered the Orange and Orangemen during the entire Boeheim run, as we approach an astounding 40th season, we take a look back at the high and low moments of each campaign.

1976-77: High-In only his fourth game as coach, SU goes to Freedom Hall and knocks off Darrell Griffith and Louisville 76-75. Low-After a thrilling overtime upset win over Tennessee’s Ernie and Bernie show in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, the Orange lose by 22 points to “Cornbread” Maxwell and UNC-Charlotte in the Sweet 16.

1977-78: High-The Orangemen hold on and beat Michigan State and its standout freshman Ervin “Magic” Johnson in the initial Carrier Classic (played from 1977-2000), although Johnson wins tournament MVP honors over SU’s Marty Brynes. Low-Syracuse drops both of its postseason games, first to St. Bonaventure in the ECAC Upstate playoffs, then to a 14-13 Western Kentucky team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

1978-79: High-In Boeheim’s first game coaching SU at Madison Square Garden, the Orangemen knock off South Carolina 71-64 in front of a partisan Syracuse crowd. Low-Falling to Ivy League member Pennsylvania in the Sweet 16, although the Quakers were ranked No. 14 and would go on to the Final Four.

1979-80: High-Achieving a first-ever No. 2 ranking in the country with only two regular season defeats. Low-“Manley Field House is officially closed.”

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1980-81: High-The triple overtime 83-80 win over Villanova to take the Big East championship in the Dome, and until the SU-Duke game in 2014, was the best college basketball game ever played under the Teflon top. Low-Not making the NCAA Tournament without an automatic Big East bid, and subsequently falling to Tulsa in the NIT final 86-84 in OT.

1981-82: High-You know it’s a tough year (16-13) when a gritty 92-87 loss to No. 4 DePaul in the Dome is the highlight (SU did beat 8th ranked Georgetown in the Dome), a game in which DePaul star forward Terry Cummings had four, first-half fouls but did not foul out. Low-A first round Big East Tournament defeat to Boston College in Hartford, where forward Ron Payton and center Andre Hawkins were charged with the rape of a Villanova student in a hotel room. The charges were dismissed the following summer.

1982-83: High-Believe it or not, Syracuse scored 100 or more points six times during a 21-10 season, including 110 twice. Low-Only needing to defeat Ohio State to gain a NCAA Sweet 16 home game against North Carolina, the Orangemen fell to the Buckeyes 79-74 also in Hartford.

1983-84: High-The arrival of a program-changing Pearl Washington from Brooklyn, after he made the announcement on national television to Al McGuire the previous winter and subsequently hit “The Shot” against Boston College in a January Dome madhouse. Low-Stretching the non-consecutive NCAA victories streak to six straight tournament appearances under Boeheim, falling to Virginia in the Sweet 16.

1984-85: High-Beating No. 1 Georgetown 65-63 in a memorable Big Monday game in the Dome. Low-While three other Big East teams made the Final Four, again SU was stopped in game two of the NCAA’s, losing to hometown Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

1985-86: High-Defeating David Robinson and Navy 89-67 to win the Carrier Classic. Low-Losing to David Robinson and Navy 97-85 in the NCAA Tournament on the same Dome floor, and suddenly, the Pearl Washington era was over.

1986-87: High-Overcoming the NCAA losing streak with Boeheim’s first Final Four appearance, defeating No. 2 North Carolina in the East Regional final at the Meadowlands on route to New Orleans. Low-Keith Smart’s shot.

1987-88: High-Named the No. 1 team to begin the season for the first time in school history. Low-Falling to unheralded Tom Garrick and Rhode Island in the NCAA second round, hindered by an ill Sherman Douglas who was suffering from a stomach virus.

1988-89: High-Douglas’s “hike pass” between the legs to a streaking Stephen Thompson for a slam dunk in an early season 102-78 rout of Indiana at Madison Square Garden. Low-With a Final Four berth on the line, Syracuse falls to Illinois 89-86 at Minneapolis.

1989-90: High-The Orangemen start the season No. 1 for the second time in three seasons, including an impressive 78-76 win over Duke in the ACC-Big East challenge at Greensboro. Low-Being knocked off by an underwhelming Minnesota team in the Sweet 16 at the Louisiana Superdome.

1990-91: High-Winning the Maui Classic over No. 8 Indiana 77-74. Low-Losing both post-season games, first to Villanova in the Big East Tournament as the top seed, and becoming the first victim of a 15th seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Richmond 73-69.

1991-92: High-An out-of-nowhere Big East title made sweeter with Georgetown the victim 56-54 on a late David Johnson basket. Low-Having to play Massachusetts in a virtual Minuteman NCAA home game at Worcester falling 77-71 in OT.

1992-93: High-With a NCAA ban due to recruiting violations, making it to the Big East final was an accomplishment. Low-Getting blown out by Seton Hall in the title game 103-70, the worst Boeheim loss up to that point of his career.

1993-94: High-Defeating two Top Five teams during the regular season, No. 4 Kentucky, and No. 5 Connecticut in Dome games. Low-A gallant comeback led by current assistant coach Adrian Autry and Lawrence Moten, who combined for 60 points, which fell short in OT against Missouri 98-88 in the Sweet 16 at Los Angeles.

1994-95: High-Winning 16 of its first 18 games to begin the season before a second half slide. Low-Moten’s timeout snafu against Arkansas in OT in the second-round NCAA Tournament game at Austin costing SU the chance at knocking off the defending champions.

1995-96: High-The incredible run to the NCAA championship game including a thrilling OT win over Georgia in the Sweet 16 on a late John Wallace three-pointer. Low-Not being able to finish the six game winning streak falling short against Kentucky 76-67.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.