Journey to Scranton pays in threes for Syracuse's Boeheim

Getting McNamara nod worth losing sleep over

College Basketball

March 20, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

DENVER - When Gerry McNamara was a senior at Bishop Hannan High School in Scranton, Pa., three years ago, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim was so determined to sign him, he even recruited McNamara in his sleep.

No joke. Boeheim was exhausted one day during the NCAA's open recruiting period, but he wasn't about to lose a player from his own hometown to Duke or Florida, so he climbed in his car, and drove the two hours from Syracuse, N.Y., to Scranton.

McNamara was playing in a meaningless game against an inferior opponent, and it was going to be a blowout, but Boehiem didn't care. He wanted McNamara to know he cared enough to make the trip anyway.

One problem: By halftime, Boeheim was so tired, he fell asleep in the stands.

McNamara didn't hold a grudge, signing with the Orangemen, anyway. And these days, his game isn't putting anyone to sleep.

In Syracuse's 80-75 first-round victory over Brigham Young, McNamara, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, made nine three-pointers and finished with a career-high 43 points.

His nine threes tied an NCAA record, and his 43 points were the most in an NCAA tournament game since Wally Szczerbiak scored 43 against Washington for Miami (Ohio) in 1999.

"Right from the beginning, the first shot I took just felt so good, so I just kept shooting," said McNamara, who averaged 16.2 points a game during the regular season. "I kept shooting and kept making it, so I had to keep going."

McNamara scored 28 points in the first half and carried the Orangemen on his back after forward Hakim Warrick picked up his third foul. McNamara also made two free throws with 13 seconds left to give his team a four-point lead.

"Gerry was as good as I have ever seen in college basketball," Boeheim said. "He was in another world. I don't think we'll see the likes of that in forever."

That would be just fine with Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has to figure out how to guard McNamara when the Orangemen and the Terrapins meet today in a second-round game that is also a matchup of the past two NCAA champions.

"He really knows the game well and he takes advantage of your mistakes," Williams said. "You give him one or two feet of space, and like all great shooters, that's all they need."

Against BYU, McNamara needed even less. A sliver of daylight was good enough. He hit three-pointers in transition and he hit them in Syracuse's half-court offense, several of them from well beyond the NBA three-point line.

"Had it not been for his performance, we probably could have won by eight or nine points," said BYU coach Steve Cleveland.

Of course, this is nothing new for McNamara, the seventh-leading scorer in the history of Pennsylvania high school basketball. He once scored 55 in a game - 41 of those in the first half.

As a freshman last season, he made six three-pointers in the first half of the national championship game against Kansas, helping Boeheim win his first title. After the game, Boeheim speculated that basketball in college might actually be easier for McNamara than it was for him in high school.

"When Gerry played in high school, he was a star for four years," Boeheim said. "He saw box-and-one defenses, he saw triangle defenses, everything - all of it designed to stop him specifically. So that's what made him the player he is. I honestly think it's easier for him at this level than it was in high school because he doesn't have three guys on him."

McNamara doesn't disagree.

"It's a lot easier than it was in high school because I've got guys like Hakim Warrick to draw all the attention," he said.

Dealing with all the off-court attention that accompanies a 43-point game in the NCAA tournament is clearly not something McNamara enjoys. He wore a scowl through much of yesterday's hour-long media session, and grew quickly annoyed with repeated questions about how he was going to prepare for Maryland's defense.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Am I supposed to put on a suit of armor?" McNamara said. "I'm going to play basketball. I'm not going to prepare any different. They'll play man-to-man, and they might switch to a box-and-one at some point, but teams have been doing that all year. It doesn't make a difference to me."

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