Boeheim turns out to be `free' thinker

Letting Graves, Collison do their worst from line smoothed Syracuse's way

College Basketball

April 09, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - If you believe Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, Kansas' agonizing night at the free-throw line in Monday's national-championship game - an 81-78 Syracuse win - wasn't a matter of fate or good luck for the Orangemen.

It was the result, Boeheim said with a wink, of good coaching.

"We tried to foul as much as we could anytime they got the ball inside," said Boeheim, who won his first national championship in his third appearance in the title game.

"[Kansas forward] Jeff Graves is a 38 percent free-throw shooter, and I think he went 2-for-7. Anytime he or [Nick] Collison got close to the basket, we wanted to foul them."

Graves and Collison had fine games from the floor, combining for 25 points and 37 rebounds, but drew little but iron from the line, especially down the stretch. Collison, a consensus All-American and a 65 percent free-throw shooter in the regular season, missed five straight at one point and went 1-for-7 in the second half.

"We got enough stops to make a run. We just couldn't make free throws," Collison said. "We were 12-for-30. If we shot 50 percent from the line, we tie. It just wasn't our night."

Said Kansas coach Roy Williams: "Folks, everybody says free throws are easy. But there's a reason why they have a Senior Tour in golf. It's because those players couldn't make 4-foot putts because they got the yips."

Free throws aside, Syracuse also held off Kansas because the Jayhawks couldn't stay out of foul trouble in guarding Carmelo Anthony.

The 6-foot-8 freshman from Baltimore made Jayhawks forward Keith Langford pick up his third and fourth fouls just nine seconds apart two minutes into the second half.

The 6-foot-5 Langford, who was one of the few consistent offensive threats for Kansas in the game, fouled out with 5:36 to play.

"Carmelo is tough to guard," Boeheim said. "He gets people in foul trouble, and I thought that was big."

Anthony, who was named the Final Four's most outstanding player, played through back pain for most of the second half, and several times was seen wincing after a hard foul or a scramble for a loose ball.

But it hardly seemed to affect him. He hit three three-pointers, suffocated Kansas' guards with his long arms on defense, and burned the Jayhawks' double teams by handing out a career-high seven assists.

"I took a physical toll the whole tournament," Anthony said. "Everybody was beating me up. I kind of hurt my back early in the first half after my second three-pointer. Coach just told me to tough it out, so that's what I kind of did."

All eyes and ears were focused on Anthony after the game, wondering when he will make his decision on returning to Syracuse or declaring for the NBA draft.

If he opts for the draft, most projections have Anthony going as the second or third pick, though his performance in the tournament might make it tough on the team that gets the first pick and has to choose between him and 18-year-old high school player LeBron James.

Even if Anthony does go pro, Syracuse will return a formidable lineup. Boeheim called guard Gerry McNamara "one of the best freshmen in the country," and he'll also get back freshman Billy Edelin and sophomores Craig Forth, Jeff Pace and Hakim Warrick.

Warrick, in fact, may have made the game's most important play when he came flying at Kansas' Michael Lee and blocked a potential game-tying three-pointer with .7 of a second left.

"It was like [Warrick] had Twizzler arms or something," Anthony said. "He just came out of nowhere and blocked the ball. Once he blocked it, I knew the game was over."

Speculation after the game wasn't limited to Anthony's future. Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith was in attendance Monday night, and several newspapers were reporting yesterday that Williams will be offered the Tar Heels' vacant coaching position within the week.

"Honestly, I haven't spent one second thinking about that," Williams said. "And I do realize the journalistic side of you has to ask questions, but there is a side of human decency or human sensitivity, too."

Boeheim, meanwhile, said he didn't feel like the victory validates him in some way. Still, he did not attempt to hide his joy. A former walk-on at Syracuse, Boeheim stayed on as a graduate assistant, and got the head-coaching job almost by default 27 years ago because, he said, the university didn't know what else to do.

Now he's the second straight coach to lead his alma mater to a title, following in the footsteps of Maryland's Gary Williams. Before last year, that hadn't happened in 28 years.

"I don't feel any smarter [because we won]," Boeheim said. "I'm tremendously happy though. I'm happy for our players and, really, for our fans. ... The experiences I've had in this game, to me, that's what it's all about. I'm the same coach I was just a few minutes ago. If Hinrich had made that jump shot, I'd probably be a worse coach. But that's the game."

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