Orange Watch: Looking back at Syracuse basketball and the 1977 Carrier Classic

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim speaks to reporters during ACC Media Day in Charlotte. Mandatory Photo Credit: Brad Bierman, The Juice Online.

Item: With the ongoing saga of what name the Dome will have attached to it once the first phase of the building’s renovation is completed in September, we’re reminded that before the Carrier Dome there was the Carrier Classic, and we take a look at the first two incarnations of the event at Manley Field House during the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons.

Back in the early portion of Jim Boeheim’s career, many November-December college basketball tournaments used to be two-day “Classics” or “Invitationals” held at major colleges that would usually invite one good opponent, one pretty good opponent, and one not-so-good opponent on campus for a pair of doubleheaders.

Syracuse athletics, and in particular the Orange Pack, debuted the Carrier Classic as a way to bring top intersectional teams to town early each season.

The first year of the event at Manley Field House, Dec. 2-3, 1977, the field was SU, Michigan State, Rhode Island, and Le Moyne, inviting the crosstown Dolphins to be good neighbors and throw a little extra revenue their way.

The days leading up to the games, all the talk was about Michigan State’s 6’8” freshman guard Earvin (Magic) Johnson, who, at the time, was still not widely known simply as “Magic.”

» Related: Which Syracuse basketball player had the best NBA career?

The Orangemen blasted Le Moyne 90-62, and Michigan State romped over Rhode Island 92-64, setting up the title game. Over 9,500 fans packed inside Manley’s new layout with increased seating and watched a see-saw affair that was tied 63-63 with a minute and a half to play, before the ‘Cuse pulled away by hitting foul shots and playing good defense to win 75-67.

Marty Byrnes had 18 points and eight rebounds to lead SU to the win, and Johnson slipped from his opening night performance, including nine turnovers against a stingy SU defense. Yet at midcourt afterwards, Johnson was named the tourney MVP, sending second-year coach Boeheim into a frenzy.  (Ironic note: Byrnes and Johnson would end up being teammates on the 1979-80 NBA Champion Los Angles Lakers.)

Back in those days after games, reporters surrounded Boeheim in the locker room corridor where that night he angrily told local newspaper beat writers Bob Snyder and Rob Lawin:

“We’ve played in tournaments 15 straight years (13 to be exact). Always a player from the winning team is the MVP. This is typical, it only happens in Syracuse.”

As Snyder and Lawin headed back to the sports information office off of the Manley lobby to write their stories, Boeheim came charging demanding to know whom each had voted for as the MVP. Neither would divulge their choice, as Boeheim created quite a sight amongst the late-departing crowd, hurling not only expletives their way, but a rolled up stat sheet as well.

Lawin called Boeheim’s bullying to find out his MVP vote, “classless, tasteless, and immature,” in a postgame story. Ah, the salad days of Jim Boeheim’s Hall of Fame career.

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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.