Connolly returns in style

March 15, 1991|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- Terry Connolly's friends had a feeling he would have lots of time to spend with them today. They figured that his season, indeed, his career with the Richmond Spiders, would be over, after a tangle with mighty Syracuse.

"Nobody gave us a chance really," said Connolly, a 6-foot-5 senior forward from Frederick. "But we knew."

Oh, how they knew. And because they knew and believed, it is Syracuse not Richmond that has time on its hands today after the Spiders became the first 15th seed ever to knock off a second seed in the NCAA tournament, 73-69.

And Connolly, a player that Richmond coach Dick Tarrant 24 hours previous described as "slow and heavy-legged" but possessing the "heart of a lion," roared like one, providing the emotional spark off the bench, with 14 points and seven rebounds.

That Connolly's performance came in Cole Field House, where he anchored two state championship teams when he attended Thomas Johnson High, made the moment even sweeter.

"It's a great place to play," said Connolly. "I played in two state championship tournaments and there were only about 3,000 people there. That doesn't even really compare with this."

"He told me that he was 4-0 on this floor," said Tarrant. "I told him he was going to be 5-0."

In fact, he told the whole team that.

"I told them at dinner that great things can happen in basketball, but we have to play a flawless game," said Tarrant. "We have to hit our free throws, not turn the ball over and rebound."

And so they did. Richmond (22-8) hit 18 of 22 free throws on the evening, including two clutch foul shots by freshman guard Eugene Burroughs with 21 seconds remaining.

Burroughs had been fouled by Syracuse reserve Mike Hopkins, and was sent to the line after Orange coach Jim Boeheim called time to ice the youngster.

It didn't work, and after knocking down both shots to give the Colonial Athletic Association tournament champions a three-point lead, Burroughs gave his father a wink.

"He put his fist in the air and I got confidence from that," said Burroughs.

"If Eugene winked at somebody in the stands, she'd better be a pretty good-looking girl," said Tarrant. "I'm going to punch him and give him a white eye."

As for the turnovers, Richmond committed just nine on the evening and took advantage of every loose ball and every unsettled situation.

And although Syracuse (26-6) outrebounded Richmond 34-28, the Spiders held their ground against the taller, more physical Orangemen.

"They got a lot of putbacks that we would normally get," said Syracuse forward Billy Owens, who brushed aside questions over whether he would leave school one year early for the NBA.

"That gets a little frustrating when you know that you should be outrebounding the other team."

Tarrant, who had used a man-to-man defensive set over the last six weeks to spur a late-season charge, shifted to a 3-2 and 2-3 zone to keep Syracuse from using its physical superiority inside.

"But if you don't have kids that believe in you, it's not going to get done," said Tarrant.

And no one helped get it done more than Connolly, who wowed the upset-hungry crowd of 13,386 with a behind-the-back pass to forward Jim Springer for a layup late in the first half.

Connolly, who was not recruited by a Division I school, played for two years at Shepherd College, an NAIA school in West Virginia.

His high school coach, Tom Dickman, sent tapes of his games to a Richmond assistant, who urged Tarrant to offer Connolly a scholarship.

Connolly started for most of last season, but was demoted to the bench 13 games into this season to give the team a spark at forward.

"We made some changes in the lineup and that helped our team chemistry," said Connolly, whose Spiders move on to face fellow overachiever Temple. "It helped the team in the long run and that's what's important."

And so, for a school that knocked Indiana out of the tournament in 1988, one year after it had won the national championship, this Richmond win was just another example of how anything truly can happen if you really believe.

"I think the fact that a school like Richmond can beat a team that I consider the best team in the Big East is a credit to every player who wears a Richmond Spider uniform," said Tarrant.

And especially to guys like Terry Connolly.

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