Freshmen make big plays down the stretch
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jim Boeheim insisted his long-awaited national title didn't make him a better coach.
Wearier? Maybe so.
In a riveting game that would make any coach go gray, the Syracuse Orangemen finally delivered the championship Boeheim has sought during his 27 seasons at the school.
They defeated Kansas 81-78 in the NCAA final Monday night behind big games from freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara and a late clutch block by a forward nicknamed "The Helicopter."
"I might be getting old or something," the 58-year-old Boeheim said. "I didn't used to get this tired."
After this game, he certainly deserved a good night's sleep.
Shaking and baking with an in-your-face offense straight from the playground, the Orangemen (30-5) took an early 18-point lead.
They led 53-42 at halftime -- setting a record for first-half points in the final.
But the determined Jayhawks (30-8) rallied, and the outcome was in doubt until the buzzer sounded.
"We played the best first half we could play, and then we just hung on," Boeheim said.
Trailing 81-78 in the final minute, the Jayhawks had three chances to tie. With 18 seconds remaining, Kirk Hinrich missed a 3-pointer that went halfway down the basket before rattling out.
The Jayhawks fouled Hakim Warrick, who missed both free throws with 13.5 seconds to go. Kansas got the ball to a wide-open Michael Lee in the corner, but from nowhere, Warrick appeared and swatted the ball out of bounds.
At that point, his nickname -- "Helicopter" for his 7-foot armspan -- never seemed more appropriate.
"I definitely wanted to go out there and make a play after missing those free throws," Warrick said. "I saw a guy open in the corner and I knew they needed to hit a 3, so I just tried to fly at him."
With 1.5 seconds remaining, Hinrich put up a desperation heave that found nothing but air. At the buzzer, the Orangemen mobbed the court to celebrate the program's first title.
"Last year, this time, I'm playing in high school for a state championship," McNamara said. "Now, you know, we're national champs. That's hard to believe."
Boeheim's milestone win denied Roy Williams his first title in a 15-year career at Kansas.
"Jimmy Boeheim hasn't gotten the respect he deserves," Williams said. "I'm happy that I think he'll get more of it now. I hate that it was at our expense."
The coach was choked up, not only by the loss, but the knowledge he'll never again coach Hinrich or fellow senior Nick Collison, who finished with 19 points and 21 rebounds.
"I've never been one to like moral victories, and I don't like this one," Williams said. "But I love the competitiveness of my kids."
Indeed, they had quite a hill to climb, and quite a group of players to stop.
McNamara hit six 3-pointers, all in the first half, to finish with 18 points. Anthony showed he is certainly ready for the NBA if he chooses, fighting off a bad back to finish with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
"All my hard work just paid off tonight," Anthony said. "I paid a physical toll the whole night, the whole tournament. The whole season, everybody's been beating me up. Coach told me to tough it up."
The Orangemen built their big lead during a breakneck first 20 minutes. But things ground to a halt in the second, and it was Boeheim's 2-3 zone that closed out the game.
The Jayhawks never really found the outside touch to force the Orangemen to guard them up high. Hinrich shot 6-for-20 -- 3-for-12 from 3-point range, including the two late misses.
Inside, Syracuse's "D" came close to turning Kansas into a one-man show.
Collison, the All-American forward, was valiant and brilliant. But he simply didn't have enough help against the tall and long Syracuse players and that well-coached defense.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks missed 18 of 30 free throws; Collison went 3-for-10.
"I think the dominating thoughts that everybody will have will be their shooting percentage in the first half and our inability to make free throws," Williams said.
Sixteen years ago, Syracuse lost by one to Indiana on Keith Smart's game-winner with four seconds remaining on the same Superdome floor. Boeheim said he wanted to get the last four seconds right this time, and he did -- just barely.
"I think this building kind of owed us one," he said.
As to whether the victory validated his already illustrious career, or made him smarter, Boeheim demurred.
"I don't think about validation or anything like that," he said. "I'm the same coach I was just a few minutes ago. If Hinrich had made that jump shot, I probably would be worse. But that's the game."
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