McNamara able to build off his red-hot first half

Freshman guard handles pressure, sparks Orange with 18 first-half points

Ncaa Championship Game

April 08, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - For 20 minutes last night, it looked like Syracuse University was going to have to name a building after freshman point guard Gerry McNamara.

McNamara hit six first-half three-pointers as Syracuse jumped out to a 53-42 halftime lead in last night's national championship game, and as it turned out, the Orangemen needed every single one of them.

Kansas staged a furious second-half comeback, in part because it held McNamara scoreless in the second half, but in the end Syracuse held on to win, 81-78, when Kirk Hinrich's desperation three-pointer fell short at the buzzer, giving the Orangemen their first national title.

"It's unbelievable to think at this time last year I was playing for a state championship, and now we're national champs," McNamara said.

The two halves could not have been more different for the Syracuse point guard. In the first half, McNamara relentlessly pushed the ball down Kansas' throat, and the 6-foot-3 freshman helped the Orangemen turn a 15-12 lead into a 42-27 advantage by hitting five consecutive three-pointers.

The Syracuse fans started chanting his name after his fifth consecutive three-pointer, and for a few minutes, it looked like the Orangemen might blow out Kansas the same way the Jayhawks blew out Marquette on Saturday. In the first half, Syracuse went 10-for-13 on three-pointers, including two each by Kueth Duany and Carmelo Anthony.

But things would change dramatically in the second half. Kansas coach Roy Williams sent all kinds of defenders at McNamara and ran him raged on the defensive end. He struggled to get off shots, went 0-for-3 from the floor and turned the ball over three times, but he was more than happy to defer to fellow freshmen Anthony and Billy Edelin, who carried Syracuse down the stretch.

"Gerry knows when to step up and make shots and he knows when to step away," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "He's the kind of kid that's capable of going off for 18 in the first half, then coming back with 18 in the second. It didn't happen that way because I think he got a little worn down, but I knew when he stepped up early he was going to just let it out tonight."

The performance, which helped McNamara earn all-tournament honors, capped a wild year for the freshman from Scranton, Pa. In the beginning of the season, he had to shrug off the perception that he was too young, too slow and too small to start for the Orangemen.

"When I first saw him at camp in the summer, I thought, there's no way this guy can play at a big-time program like Syracuse," Anthony said. "But once we got into preseason, he changed my opinion pretty quickly."

Said McNamara: "You know, I've had some tough games this year, games where I haven't shot well. The hardest thing is to keep your confidence. Last game I shot the ball pretty well, so tonight my confidence was sky high. I just felt really good shooting the ball tonight."

Even when he was struggling this season, Boeheim's opinion of McNamara never wavered. When McNamara was a senior at Bishop Hannan High School in Scranton, Boeheim liked McNamara's game so much, he decided he was going to do just about anything to sign him.

"He's an unbelievable kid," Boeheim said. "I think he's going come out of his shell even more next year."

Said McNamara: "It's just the best feeling in the world. It hasn't sunk in. I'm sure when we get back to the hotel and there are a thousand people tipping over our bus, it will start to sink in."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.