Orange squeezes out title

Syracuse wins its first

rallying Kansas misses three shots to tie, 81-78

Baltimore's Anthony is MVP

He, McNamara combine for 38 freshman points

Ncaa Championship Game

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 win the first national championship in school history.

Freshman forward Carmelo Anthony and freshman point guard Gerry McNamara combined to score 38 points, and Syracuse survived three game-tying, three-point shots by Kansas in the last 15 seconds to escape with an 81-78 victory and the NCAA title before 54,424 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 nearly from wire-to-wire, had to survive a late Kansas rally. The Jayhawks, who hurt themselves badly with a terrible display of free-throw shooting, trailed 76-65 with 4:23 left to play, rallied with a 13-4 run to close the gap to 80-78 with 40 seconds left.

But after Syracuse guard Kueth Duany made a free throw to make it 81-78, Kansas guard Kirk Hinrich's three-point shot from the top of the key rimmed out with 24 seconds left. Following two missed free throws by Hakim Warrick, he came back to block Kansas guard Michael Lee's three-point shot from the left corner with 1.5 seconds left. Hinrich then launched a desperation shot deep from the left wing in the face of a Syracuse double team that caught nothing but air, as time expired.

Anthony, the Towson Catholic product from Baltimore who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led the Orangemen with 20 points. McNamara had 18, all in the first half. Kansas forward Nick Collison finished with 19 points and a game-high 21 rebounds. Keith Langford, who fouled out with 5:36 left, finished with 19 points for Kansas. Hinrich and center Jeff Graves finished with 16 points apiece.

The Jayhawks made only 12 of 30 free-throw attempts.

"I've never had a feeling like this," Anthony said. "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life. Tonight [Boeheim] is probably the happiest man on Earth."

The Syracuse coach didn't disagree.

"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. We played the best first half. Gerry McNamara may have been the best freshman of the year out there tonight, but the whole team has been there all year long. It's a tribute to these guys. They wouldn't give up."

After falling behind at the half, 53-42, the Jayhawks showed their heart immediately in the first three minutes of the second half by charging back with a 10-2 run to cut the Syracuse lead to 55-52 with 17:08 left in the game.

Langford answered Anthony's tip-in with a driving layup, then picked up his fourth foul. The Jayhawks forced several turnovers with their half-court traps and cashed in some crucial points. Lee's three-pointer from the left corner trimmed the lead to 55-47. Collison then made a layup after a turnover by the Orangemen. Then, following another errant pass by Syracuse, Hinrich converted a three-point play to make it 55-52.

But the Orangemen got a huge lift from reserve guards Billy Edelin and Josh Pace, and Kansas suddenly hit a serious wall at the free-throw line. The Jayhawks, who missed three of their last four foul shots to end the first half, made only two of their first 13 free-throw attempts in the second half.

That combination helped Syracuse extend its lead back to 68-58 with 9:54 remaining. Anthony started the surge with two free throws. Pace and Edelin then scored eight of the next 15 points for Syracuse, which took a 72-60 lead with just under nine minutes to play.

"We just couldn't get over the hump," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, who suffered his second loss in the NCAA final during his 15 years with the Jayhawks. "Everyone is going to talk about the free throws, and we did miss a lot of free throws. 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."

Syracuse established itself impressively at both ends of the floor from the outset. The Orangemen hustled back to set up their 2-3 zone and refused to let the Jayhawks warm up their patented transition game, and Kansas was unable to break down the zone by penetrating it with any consistency.

On the offensive end, the Orangemen used their size and quickness by taking the Jayhawks off the dribble and slicing into their man-to-man, or by backing down the Kansas defenders. The Jayhawks eventually resorted to their own zone alignment late in the half.

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