McNamara is young, relentless in first half

Freshman guard sparks Syracuse with early burst, leans on fellow rookies

Ncaa Championship Game

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

NEW ORLEANS - For 20 minutes last night, it looked as if Syracuse University would have to name a building after 6-foot-3 freshman guard Gerry McNamara.

Then somehow, it almost all unraveled.

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

The Jayhawks staged a furious second-half comeback, in part because they held McNamara scoreless in the second 20 minutes. In the end Syracuse held on to win, 81-78, when Kirk Hinrich's desperation three-pointer fell short at the buzzer.

"I just got off early," McNamara said. "I knew that if we were going to be successful I'd have to make my shots."

The two halves could not have been more different for McNamara. In the first, he relentlessly pushed the ball down Kansas' throat, and he helped the Orangemen turn a 15-12 lead into a 42-27 advantage by hitting five consecutive threes.

The Syracuse fans chanted "Gerry! Gerry!" after McNamara's fifth shot, and it looked like the Orangemen might blow out Kansas the same way the Jayhawks blew out Marquette on Saturday. In the first half, Syracuse hit 10 of 13 three-point attempts, including two each by Kueth Duany and Carmelo Anthony.

Things changed dramatically after the teams went into the locker room, however.

Kansas coach Roy Williams sent all kinds of defenders at McNamara and ran him ragged on the defensive end. McNamara struggled to get off shots, went 0-for-3 and turned the ball over three times. But he was more than happy to defer to fellow freshmen Anthony and Billy Edelin.

"I got the looks in the first half, and the guys carried us off in the second half," McNamara said.

The performance, which helped McNamara earn all-tournament honors, capped a wild season for the Scranton, Pa., native. In the beginning of the season, he had to shrug off criticism that he was too young to start for the Orangemen, but by the end, he looked as poised as any guard in the country.

"We really matured over the season," McNamara said. "We had a couple of tough losses. The way we came together was incredible."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has always been a believer.

When McNamara was a senior at Bishop Hannan High School in Scranton, Boeheim liked his game so much, he decided he was going to do just about anything to sign him.

So in addition to the usual calls and letters, he decided he'd drive all the way to Scranton from Syracuse and show up at one of McNamara's games, even though he knew it was going to be a blowout.

"They were playing some team that wasn't very good, but I wanted him to know how much I liked him and wanted him to come to Syracuse," Boeheim said. "Problem was, I was exhausted from doing a bunch of other stuff and about halfway through the game, I fell asleep."

McNamara didn't hold it against Boeheim. In fact, he shrugged off Duke and Florida when they came knocking at his door because he admired Boeheim's loyalty. And, in fact, he's a big reason why Boeheim can sleep easy tonight - this time in his bed.

"It's just the best feeling in the world," McNamara said. "I won a state championship in high school last year and this is so much better. As a freshman, it just doesn't get any better."

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