Gerry McNamera’s Four Day Magic At The Garden

Five years later Gerry McNamara's legendary run still lingers in the brains of those that watched.

Here’s a YouTube video for the ages: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn3kPBww2w0

 

Jim Boeheim was unloading on to the media about the importance of Gerry McNamara to his Syracuse Orange team after McNamara led the ‘Cuse to a win over Cincinnati in the Big East Tournament. He laid into assistant coaches, other head coaches, players and even Syracuse students who had the nerve to say that G-money was overrated.

 

It had been written in Sports Illustrated, in a local campus newspapre and talked about by Big East players that McNamara wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. He was a preseason player of the year candidate and the last member of the 2003 national championship team left.

 

His importance over his career was highly understated up until his senior year. He was arguably Syracuse’s most important player in each of his first three seasons.

 

In the national championship game versus Kansas his threes put the Jayhawks in an early hole that they never could get out of. He had out of this world range. As soon as he stepped across half-court he was in range. He dropped 43 in a first round slugfest in 2004 versus BYU that would’ve made Jimmer Fredette blush. We called him G-money for a reason; as soon as he let it fly it was going in.

 

There was never a moment when I lost faith in his shot. Even when he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn against Vermont in 2005 I knew the ‘Cuse were in good hands going into the 05-06 year.

 

He was supposed to be the backbone of a team that was on arguably the best run of any of Jim Boeheim’s teams in his 30 seasons at Syracuse. It looked like things were status quo as the team started off 15-2 though they had no real impressive victories at all during the early stretch of the season.

 

But then everything fell apart once they got into conference play. Every single deficiency was exposed as they lost 4 straight games to the upper echelon of the monster that is the Big East (and Seton Hall) and 9 of their last 13 games.

 

The games were nightmares. UCONN destroyed Syracuse in both games that they played, so did Villanova, Pittsburgh outmuscled them, Cincinnati guard Devan Downey beat up G-money, DePaul… DEPAUL MURDERED SYRACUSE 108-69!! THEY WERE 12-13!!!

McNamara's senior year didn't go as planned but Coach Jim Boeheim always had his back.

Syracuse couldn’t shoot consistently; rebound consistently, couldn’t get the 2-3 zone to work, and had no real second scorer.

 

Not that the number one option was working that well.

 

As much as I loved McNamara he was getting killed. There was too much put on him, he had too many responsibilities. Lead the team in scoring, distribute the ball to players that weren’t as good as he was. He had to get his and make sure that everyone got their game going.

 

His stats were horrendous. He shot 35% from the field for the season and 33% from 3, which were career lows. He was drained and you could tell. What started off as a promising year and a great end to an era had turned into a nightmare.

 

The ‘Cuse finished 19-11 and 7-9 in the conference. As the conference tournament approached it became clear that unless Syracuse made a serious run then G-money would end his great career in the NIT.

 

The reality was that it was impossible. Their first round match was against Cincinnati who was fighting for their tourney lives themselves and had beaten the Orange by 17 one-month prior. The winner of that game got the pleasure of facing national title favorite UCONN who had a gang of NBA talent in Rudy Gay, Marcus Williams and Josh Boone. Then maybe Georgetown with Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert or Marquette and their sick 4 guard set, and finally Villanova and their own sharpshooting guards Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry or Pittsburgh their beasts of forwards Sam Young and Aaron Gray.

 

They had to win at least two of those games to even get a sniff of the tournament. But after the way that they had played I thought that there was no way it was going to happen.

 

Especially with how G-money was shooting, sure he found a rhythm on senior day versus Villanova but how would he perform when we needed him most? Add to that the fact that he was playing on an injured leg, which would hinder his shooting and ball handling and I wanted to shank myself with a spork.

 

Even though I loved Eric Devendorf  he was way too young to carry the load, same for Terrance Roberts and Daryl Watkins who were great around the rim but couldn’t go for self to save their life.

 

So as that Wednesday lunchtime tip-off rolled around I came to the realization that the magic was gone. The ‘Cuse was done and McNamara wouldn’t get the proper send off that I though he deserved.

 

The Cinci game was brutal. James White destroyed Demetris Nichols all game long. White was the kind of guy that you knew couldn’t have an NBA career because he was way too raw. He could jump through the roof of a gym but loved his outside shot too much. If he ever settled into a game he could’ve been a first-round draft pick.

The shot that started the magic.

McNamara had another one of those games that had plagued his entire season, he couldn’t hit a two to save his life. He missed layups, and mid-range jumpers all day, but he was getting everyone involved. Devendorf, Watkins, Nichols and Roberts all had double figures and were feeding off of McNamara’s playmaking. At one point the ‘Cuse had a 14 point lead and seemed comfortably in the lead until they forgot how to rebound and Cincinnati ruled the offensive glass and climbed back into the game. Once James White hit a two to put the Bearcats up by one I figured it was over. Devendorf fouled Downey who hit one of two at the line. Roberts grabbed the rebound and immediately gave it up to McNamara who got fouled with about six seconds left. Cinci had one to give and came close to an intentional foul that had Boeheim livid.

 

The inbound went to McNamara who fought through what seemed like a sea of Bearcats going behind the back, ducking under a high defender, and dodging everything in his way. He took two steps guarding the ball from swiping hands and leapt from just behind the free throw line and launched a floater that dropped in for a 74-73 lead.

 

I was at work when this happened, when I screamed my guests thought I was insane.

 

G-money’s prayer erased a 1-8 second half and a lost 14 point lead to save the day as Jihad Muhammed’s prayer fell about two inches short from giving me a heart attack.

 

I was breathless. I couldn’t believe McNamara had fought through a bad half and all of those defenders to lead the Orange to victory and possibly the NCAA tournament. Yeah I was a little delusional, I mean sure we got to 20 wins but we needed a lot more than just a last second win over a mediocre Cincinnati team to make the tournament. UCONN was up next and that game was our season I thought. If we beat the consensus number one in the country then we were in. But if we had a redo of those prior two games… done.

 

I watched the UCONN games, yeah we lost the first one by 8 but we were down by 30 at one point. I remember Marcus Williams darting into the lane for a layup stopping after it dropped and watching him wink into the camera. As overly confident as they were they had reason to be. They went nine deep and had talent seeping from its pores.

 

The problem with them was that they were so confidant that Jim Calhoun couldn’t control their cockiness. You could tell all year he had a problem getting his team to work hard instead of living off of their talent and it showed.

 

(funny thing is that they should’ve won the tournament that year and by a landslide. No one was as deep and talented at multiple positions like they were. That was Jim Calhoun’s best team and he’s won two national titles. Even funnier is that hen they lost to George Mason I didn’t blink. That was typical of their year, play down to competition, pull out games you should’ve won by 30 and lose to teams you had no business losing to. They were one of the most bizarre teams in NCAA tournament history.)

 

did I see Syracuse winning this game? No way especially after the first two but after Wednesday I figured why not?

 

McNamara’s shot was failing him from the get go, he didn’t make a basket until the 16:46 mark of the second half where he buried a three ball to put the ‘Cuse up by 14, again. UCONN was being UCONN. They were underachieving against a less talented team and the 2-3 zone that Syracuse is known for was doing a number on them and they couldn’t get one clean shot off at all.

G-money's magic continued versus UCONN.

Marcus Williams played his worst game all season shooting wise even though he handed out 11 dimes. McNamara, though he couldn’t hit a shot, was setting up all of his guys again. Nichols was able to get easy buckets and Terrance Roberts was a monster on the inside. Problem was Roberts was in foul trouble all half because even though UCONN couldn’t hit a shot they controlled the offensive glass.

 

The combination of Hilton Armstrong and Boone killed Roberts and Watkins all afternoon and just like against Cinci, the lead evaporated. When Roberts fouled out with 3:17 remaining Boeheim decided to go small instead of relying on Arinze Onuaku in his early stages of development.  Luckily it worked out because UCONN all but abandoned the inside game relying on jump sots instead.

 

Rashard Anderson hit a three to put UCONN up by one. After Josh Wright missed a gimme, Denham Brown grabbed a rebound and I thought that was it. Brown wasn’t missing any of those two free throws and I wondered if there was anything left. That’s when the what if’s run through your head. What if G-money knocked down a jumper? What if Roberts had stayed out of foul trouble? What if we didn’t lose four straight and didn’t look so bad all year.

 

It was over. As Brown sunk that last freebie McNamara took the inbound at 11 seconds from the defensive end. He wasn’t contested as Calhoun told his troops to play off and not foul. As he brought the ball across half court only Rashard Anderson was even remotely close to him. McNamara pulled up about 30 feet from the basket and three feet in front Anderson who put up a lazy arm to contest McNamara’s heave… AND HE DRAINED IT!!! 30 FEET OUT!!!

 

The Garden is going nuts. Roberts is holding his head Travis Hill style after Christian Laettner’s jumper against Kentucky. G-money did it again. I was crumpled over behind the bar in shock. How in the hell did this happen again I wondered? The guy just suffered through another bad shooting night and somehow got up the stones to hoist a prayer that drops in like it was nothing.

 

That’s why they say the best shooters keep shooting. No matter how bad you night is going your confidence can’t be shaken. For all that G-money had been through that year from the overrated talk, to his poor shooting percentage, he remained confident. That’s why I always loved him. You could never tell things were bothering him, he just went out and did his thing.

 

Needless to say the game went into overtime and the 2-3 zone did UCONN in for good. The Huskies only hit two shots in overtime and McNamara nailed 3 of 4 free throws to give the Orange the lead for good.

 

When Williams’ last two shots fell short it was over. 86-84 Orange. Roberts sprinted off of the bench to grab McNamara and toss him over his shoulder in jubilant fashion. I damn near cried. I knew we were in at that point. We had the signature win needed to make the NCAA’s. who could say that this team wasn’t worthy of a bid after the last two games? Two close victories on a neutral floor in a big-time environment, you’d be nuts to exclude the ‘Cuse from the dance.

 

It was all McNamara though. It’s funny because the way that people made his run seem was that McNamara was going off every night leading Syracuse to victory. The reality was the he was 9-31 in his first two games but dropped 22 dimes and made everyone on the floor better.

Despite his stats McNamara made teammates like Eric Devendorf better.

McNamara hit shots when he needed to and set up Nichols, Roberts and company for success. That’s why he was so important. The shooting was secondary, he gave guys with little experience the confidence to play big in big scenarios.

 

In the first two games of the Big East Tournament each member of the starting five scored in double figures. That kind of well-rounded play was the reason for both wins as much as G-money’s heroics.

 

Even though Syracuse had the win I thought it needed to make the dance I knew they couldn’t have a letdown versus Georgetown on Friday.

 

At this point the media was all over this thing. McNamara was the latest in a long line of players to shine in the Madison Square Garden spotlight. It was his time. The overrated talk was out of the window, people knew what he meant to Syracuse basketball now and if they didn’t then they need their heads examined.

 

The confidence in Syracuse was growing. You could see an extra hop in their step from the jump against Georgetown. Thing is that the Hoyas were way far left from Cinci and UCONN. They were a slow down and grind team that limited their possessions and played wicked defense.

 

The first half set basketball back a few years. There were no baskets in the first 4 minutes and Syracuse couldn’t buy a bucket after that. Syracuse trailed by 15 at the half and were on the verge of getting run out the building. It was the first game of the tournament that McNamara couldn’t get his teammates and needed to bear the offensive load. Once again he stepped up.

 

After taking only two shots in the first half he went 5-8 in the second half, all of which from three land. He hit three in a row in a two minute stretch that cut the Hoya lead from 12 to 4. The 2-3 zone set in and it was Georgetown that couldn’t buy a basket. Once he got going McNamara found Matt Gorman for a game-tying three and Nichols got to the foul line hitting some key free throws.  Georgetown however still clung to their slim lead late into the second half when G-money hit his 5th and final three of the half to cut the lead to one with 48 seconds left. The crowd just like it had done in previous games began chanting his names over and over.

 

On Georgetown’s next possession Ashanti Cook threw a bad pass that landed in Nichols hands. He immediately gave it up to McNamara who led a two-on-one and fed Devendorf for a one point lead with 1.5 seconds left. The man had done it again.

McNamara led a furious second half comback against Georgetown.

58-57. The ‘Cuse was in the Big East title game for the second straight year and in the most silly of fashion. In the last minute of each game G-money was the direct reason as to why Syracuse won each game. I had never seen anything like it.

 

The Big East Tournament had Ray Allen’s runner, Erick Barkley going HAM and countless other memorable figures and moments. But none like what McNamara was doing. There was no explanation as to how a guy with a busted wheel was single handedly leading his team to the top of one of basketball’s best conference.

 

This team couldn’t beat a good team all year and now had done it in three straight days. They had a chance to be the first Big East team to win 4 games in four days to win the tourney.

 

I didn’t care about the NCAA’s. they were the furthest from my mind. I wanted this team to win this tournament and have McNamara shove it in everyone’s face afterwards. For McNamara this was his moment. Melo had his in 03, Warrick had his the year before, but arguably neither was like this.

 

Pittsburgh was last on the list. Unlike their previous opponents Syracuse matched up well with Pitt and played a similar style of basketball. Pitt was a team of a New York transplants as Jamie Dixon loved draining NYC of its talent for his own use. I actually admired Pitt because of this. Guys like Carl Krauser, LeVance Fields and Ronald Ramon were tough point guards who could penetrate or spot up and shoot. They also crumpled early versus that 2-3 zone of coach Boeheim’s.

 

This game was different from the previous three as the ‘Cuse jumped out in front early instead of coming on in the second half. McNamara got it going early with ten first half points and that defense confused Krauser and limited Sam Young’s athletic ability.

McNamara got the 'Cuse going early and put them up late.

Once in control, McNamara spread around the ball in the second half feeding Nichols for a three  as well as finding Watkins for an easy score. But even though this game was different in that Syracuse jumped out early, it was similar in how they blew their lead. After taking a 44-34 lead Pitt went on a 14-3 run taking a 1 point lead with 8:40 left to play. After a timeout McNamara buried a three and Syracuse never trailed again.

 

Syracuse didn’t need McNamara’s late game heroics today instead Josh Wright knocked down 4 free throws late to seal a 65-61 win and give Syracuse their second straight Big East title. They won four games in four days, never done before. They made the NCAA tournament and the underrated Gerry McNamara was named MVP of the tourney. I mean who else could’ve possibly won it?

 

His numbers were average but his heart, and guts, were huge. The Three against Cinci that won it, the three against UCONN that tied it, the three to bring them within one against G’Town and the pass to Devendorf that won it and the three against Pitt that put them up for good.

 

I watched him soak it all in and I basked with him. I thought to myself that this team was going to win the national championship. How could it not? We just won 4 in 4 days, 6 in 3 weeks is nothing… unfortunately it was something.

 

In the first round against Texas A&M McNamara and the entire team was gassed, the emotion of the Big East Tourney never carried over and the Aggies broke the Orange spirit 66-58. It was the second straight first round loss in a row for the Orange. It was painful for two reasons; 1. because everyone was so high from the magic at the Garden and 2. because G-money only played 23 minutes as the banged up leg finally got to him.

McNamara was named the Big East Tournament MVP leading Syracuse's improbable run.

He gave too much of himself at the Garden, when he was done so were the Orange. It was part maddening and part sad.

 

No one drafted G-money. He played overseas for a little and then in the D-League before joining Boeheim’s staff two years ago. If they drafted off of pure heart and will McNamara would’ve been a first rounder, instead people like Adam Morrison got a shot.

 

Whatever, I have my lasting image of McNamara. For four days he took the fears of the Syracuse fans and turned them into unrelenting ecstasy. That run will never be duplicated. Guys will score 30 a game for four straight days, guys will make big plays, and someone will be the next one to light up the Garden for his own personal use. But it wont be like what McNamara did. They wont hit those shots, put a team on their back and make history like he did.

 

Gerry McNamara for four days was the best player in the country and let the whole world know. He was the furthest thing from overrated, he was as good as advertised.

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