The 2019 debut of Boeheim’s Army in The Basketball Tournament was just about every Syracuse basketball fan cliché rolled up in one game. Fortunately, the best truism was the team in orange eventually won in the end, as the Army pulled out a tightly-contested 68-65 game against We Are D3.
Chants of “Let’s go, Orange!” in a packed gymnasium? Sure.
Standing ovation for Jim Boeheim when he entered the court area? Of course.
Fans standing and rhythmically applauding until the first Syracuse field goal? Is there another way to watch a game in public?
Slow start for SU? Uh huh. After scoring the first four points, Boeheim’s Army went cold and We Are D3 heated up. D3 hit four-of-five threes and shot almost 65 percent from the field in the opening frame as they roared out to a 26-12 lead with just under a minute left in the first quarter.
Maddening game where a team that was expected to be little more than a speed bump made things incredibly difficult for the team in orange? We Are D3 held onto that lead until the midpoint of the third quarter.
Did Syracuse eventually get it going after allowing a weaker opponent a big lead? Yes, the Army fought back in the second quarter. A set of Arinze Onuaku lay-ups bookended an 8-2 run that pulled them within 30-25 with four minutes left in the period, then John Gillon would score a half dozen points in an 8-1 Army run that sliced the D3 lead to 36-35 late in the session. We Are D3 would add a foul shot before the break for a two-point intermission advantage.
Emphatic run where Syracuse finally took the lead and got the home fans rocking? You bet. After D3 nudged their lead back out to five points coming out of the break, Boeheim’s Army closed the third with a 15-4 burst, including 12 of the quarter’s last 14 points. That run gave them a 54-48 lead.
Pesky opponent that would not just go away? (Sighs angrily.) D3 scored the first two baskets of the fourth, pulling within a deuce and making for an uncomfortable finish.
Fast break offense to ignite the crowd? Yep. Eric Devendorf leaked out for a lay-in and a 60-56 lead. The score was a bigger one than just the two points, as the Army then fouled to set the Elam Ending into motion, setting the winning score of 68 points. (The Elam Ending is a feature of the Basketball Tournament where, at the first clock stoppage with under four minutes to go in the fourth quarter, eight points are added to the leading team’s score to set the game’s eventual winning score.)
Crowd-rocking dunk from a lanky forward? Can’t have a Syracuse game without one. This time, Hakim Warrick (13 points, game-high eight rebounds) stuffed the ball home off a slick inbounds pass from Eric Devendorf and the crowd nearly took the roof off the building with the Army on top, 62-56.
Painful end game with debatable coaching decision? Certainly feels like you can’t have a Syracuse game without one. Ryan Blackwell opted to keep Onuaku on the floor once the Elam Ending was in effect in spite of the center’s long history of spotty foul shooting, including last year in the Tournament where the trailing team fouled Onuaku repeatedly in an effort to extend the game and that he had missed both free throw attempts earlier in the game.
Missed free throws? Check. After he was fouled trying to hammer home the winning points on an alley-oop, Warrick went to the line, missing the first and erasing the possibility of ending the game. The veteran rebounded, making the second to bring Boeheim’s Army within a single point of victory at 67-61.
Escape the debatable coaching decision with a win? Whew, yeah. While they opted not to intentionally foul Onuaku, We Are D3 rallied, making it a one-possession game at 67-65. The lone non-Syracuse member of the Army, Jordan Crawford, drew a foul on a drive and made his second foul shot (again with the missed free throws cliché) for the winning point.
In fact, the most uncharacteristic things that happen were that the guy no one had heard of who went crazy from three was wearing orange this time – Crawford exploded for 15 of his team-high 17 points in the second half, including three triples in under three minutes of the third period – and the coach went away from the 2-3 zone defense – Blackwell switched the team to man-to-man defense in the first quarter.
Boeheim’s Army gets another cliché on Saturday. They get to face an in-state opponent in a game they will be expected to win when they face Gael Nation, a team comprised of Iona alumni, in a noon Eastern tip-off. Gael Nation defeated Team Fancy in their tournament opener, 99-93, shooting 61.3 percent from the floor, including making 13-of-23 three pointers.