Orange squeezes out title

Syracuse wins its first as Kansas rally fails on 3 misses in last :15, 81-78

Baltimore's Anthony is MVP

He, McNamara combine for 38 freshman points

Ncaa Championship Game

April 08, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - The Syracuse Orangemen nearly lost their grip on a game they controlled for lengthy stretches, but in the end, they had just enough left to take home the first national championship in school history.

Syracuse freshman forward Carmelo Anthony and freshman point guard Gerry McNamara combined to score 38 points, Kansas nearly overcame a meltdown at the free-throw line, and the Orangemen survived three game-tying, three-point attempts by the Jayhawks in the final 15 seconds to escape with an 81-78 victory and the NCAA title last night before 54,524 at the Superdome.

The victory gave 27-year Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim his first NCAA crown, after he had lost twice before in national championship games.

The Orangemen, who won the East Regional as the No. 3 seed and led last night for the final 37 minutes, had to survive a late Kansas rally. The Jayhawks missed 13 of 17 foul shots in the second half and trailed 76-65 with 4:23 left to play, but still rallied with a 13-4 run to close to 80-78 with 40 seconds left.

But, after Jayhawks senior forward Nick Collison fouled out with 24 seconds to go and Syracuse's Kueth Duany made a free throw to make it 81-78, Kansas senior guard Kirk Hinrich's three-point shot from the top of the key rimmed out with 15 seconds left.

Syracuse forward Hakim Warrick missed two free throws, but he came back to block Michael Lee's three-point attempt from the left corner with 1.5 seconds left. Hinrich came off a screen, took an inbounds pass and launched a desperation shot deep from the left wing in the face of a Syracuse double-team.

The shot caught nothing but air, as time expired. Finally, the Orangemen (30-5) could celebrate. Finally, after outplaying Kansas so thoroughly while taking a 53-42 halftime lead - and setting a record for most points ever scored in the first half of an NCAA final - the Orangemen could relax after a gritty display by the Jayhawks (30-8).

"We played the best first half we could play, then we just hung on. Give Kansas an unbelievable amount of credit," Boeheim said. "We played unbelievable in the first half. It's a tribute to Roy Williams and to Kansas how they came back and kept coming back. It's a tribute to these guys - they wouldn't give up. They didn't give up against a great Kansas team. I'm really proud of them."

Anthony, the Towson Catholic product who was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, led the Orangemen with 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. McNamara had 18 points, all in the first half. Backup guards Josh Pace and Billy Edelin combined to score 20 points, including 14 in the second half.

Collison finished with 19 points, a game-high 21 rebounds and three blocked shots. Keith Langford, who fouled out with 5:36 left, finished with 19 points. Hinrich and center Jeff Graves finished with 16 points apiece. Graves also had 16 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive end.

The Jayhawks battled gamely, after absorbing a three-point onslaught in the first half by the Orangemen, who made 10 of 13 shots from beyond the arc. Kansas out-rebounded Syracuse by a whopping 52-36 margin, but the Jayhawks undid their blue-collar work by making only 12 of 30 free-throw attempts and shooting poorly against the zone. Kansas missed 16 of 20 three-point shots. Hinrich was 3-for-12.

Collison shot 3-for-10 at the foul line. Langford went 5-for-10. The Jayhawks missed 12 of their first 13 free throws to start the second half.

"We just couldn't get over the hump. Everyone is going to talk about the free throws, and we did miss a lot of free throws," said Williams, who suffered his second loss in the NCAA final during his 15 years with the Jayhawks. "When you're trying to come from behind, you can't make those kinds of mistakes. Still, we had opportunities, but you have to give Syracuse credit. They were able to withstand a rally against an incredibly tough group of kids."

The Jayhawks were never able to get into their kind of game. Their patented fast break, which shredded Marquette by 33 points in Saturday's semifinal round, barely got out of the garage.

Part of it was due to great shooting early by the Orangemen, who were able to set up their bothersome 2-3 zone with more ease. Part of it was due to the athleticism of players like Anthony and Warrick, who controlled the middle and forced Kansas to play more of a half-court game. Kansas produced only 13 fast-break points.

"I've never had a feeling like this. This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life," said Anthony, who was equally dynamic as a passer and scorer in the first half, and helped the Orangemen on the boards down the stretch. Anthony is expected to declare for the NBA draft and be among the top three picks in June. He was serenaded with cheers of "One more year!" by Syracuse fans.

"All my hard work, everything I did in the gym from preseason, all of it just paid off tonight," Anthony said. "Winning the national championship. It ain't sunk in yet. I haven't felt it now. Probably tonight."

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