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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Syracuse Nearly Lets It Slip Away

Orangemen hold on for a 72-70 win over Maryland, which limits high-scoring McNamara to two baskets.

March 21, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Maryland held Syracuse hotshot guard Gerry McNamara to two baskets Saturday but, somehow, Syracuse held on to a victory.

In the frenetic final seconds, Maryland freshman D.J. Strawberry missed two short shots that could have sent the game to overtime and Syracuse raced out of the Pepsi Center with a 72-70 victory.

Instead of living with a come-from-ahead defeat that would have stuck with the program for years, Syracuse (23-7) advanced to the round of 16 and will face Alabama, an upset winner over Stanford, Thursday in a Phoenix Regional semifinal game.

If you could sum up Syracuse's sentiment, in a word?

Try whew.

McNamara, who scored 43 points against Brigham Young in Thursday's first-round win, made only two of 11 shots, both three-point baskets, and finished with 13 points.

Syracuse, though, got a 26-point effort from forward Hakim Warrick and solid contributions from center Craig Forth (10 points) and guard Josh Pace (nine points).

Maryland guards Chris McCray and Strawberry, each 6 feet 5, swarmed the 6-2 McNamara, who made a school-record nine three-point baskets against Brigham Young.

"When you come off a big game like that, I expected to be hounded today," McNamara said.

Syracuse, though, found other ways to win. Coach Jim Boeheim's vaunted 2-3 zone defense held Maryland to 22 first-half points, a season low, and frustrated Maryland -- almost to no end.

So how did Syracuse almost blow a double-digit second-half lead?

Give credit to Maryland players and Gary Williams, their peripatetic coach.

Williams is so high strung he won't concede a putt in golf, let alone a lost-cause basketball game.

Williams ranted on the sideline, imploring his players to hang in there after trailing by 10 points at the half.

"I thought we were going to win at halftime," Williams said. "That's just how I am."

Williams rotated players in and out like hockey shifts and implemented a full-court press in Mile High altitude.

Maryland played with perspiration and desperation. Williams has only one senior on this season's team, Jamar Smith, yet this team became noted for its comeback qualities.

In last week's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Maryland rallied from 19 points down at the half to beat North Carolina State.

Saturday, Williams pushed and pushed and pushed and nearly extracted another miracle from his players.

"I'll try anything to win that game," Williams said. "I don't care if we lose by 50."

How over did this game seem?

Syracuse led by 10 points with 4 minutes 44 seconds left, by nine at the two-minute mark.

The Orangemen were up a seemingly comfortable five points, 71-66, with 22 seconds left, and had Forth at the free-throw line, looking to up the lead to seven.

But it wasn't over. Forth missed his two free-throw attempts, Maryland raced down court and freshman Mike Jones, with 16 seconds left, was fouled beyond the three-point arc.

Jones made two free throws to cut the lead to three points, but missed on his third attempt. Maryland got the rebound, though, and Strawberry scored on a layup with eight seconds left to cut the lead to 71-70.

Maryland fouled McNamara with 7.5 seconds left. McNamara is an 87% free-throw shooter.

But he made only one of two free throws to put Syracuse up by two points.

Strawberry, the son of former baseball standout Darryl, raced down court and missed on a running baseline shot, but got the ball back in the lane and missed again.

"That was the longest couple of seconds I've had in a long time," Syracuse's Warrick said.

Boeheim believed his team played as well as it could but never believed the game was in hand.

Not with his friend, Williams, barking out strategies.

"He's the only coach I would have worried about today," Boeheim said. "His is the only team that could come back at us. His team is going to fight you for 40 minutes."

Williams was hoping for overtime, so he could have fought Boeheim for another five. Instead, Maryland's exhausting season ends at 20-12.

Eight Maryland players played 11 minutes or more against Syracuse. Smith and Travis Garrison led the Terrapins with 16 points each.

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