Orange rush accomplished

Syracuse finishes off its improbable run to the league championship as a No. 9 seed by beating its third ranked team in three days.

Associated Press
Published March 12, 2006

NEW YORK - Syracuse won the Big East championship. It was Gerry McNamara's tournament.

The Orange repeated as conference champions by beating No. 15 Pittsburgh 65-61 on Saturday night. It was the first time in their record four victories they didn't need late-game heroics from the senior guard.

Sophomore Josh Wright clinched the title win, making four free throws in the final 17 seconds.

But it was still McNamara's tournament.

Syracuse became the lowest-seeded team to win the Big East tournament - the Orange came in at No. 9 - and the third school to repeat, joining Georgetown in 1985 and Connecticut in 1999.

The Orange (23-11) arrived in New York as a bubble team to get an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. They are leaving with an automatic bid and a folk hero.

McNamara, the obvious pick as tournament MVP, won the first-round game against Cincinnati with a 3-pointer with less than a second to play. He tied the quarterfinal against top-ranked Connecticut with five seconds left in regulation and the Orange won in overtime.

In the semifinal win over No. 23 Georgetown, he hit a late 3 to bring the Orange within one, then made the pass on the winning basket and forced a turnover on the Hoyas' final possession.

In the championship game win over Pittsburgh (24-7), he had 14 points and six assists. He had three 3-pointers, giving him a tournament-record 16.

The crowd of 19,594 at Madison Square Garden chanted his name throughout the game, and many more than that will claim over the years they were in the building to see some part of what will become known as "McNamara's Tournament."

It was Syracuse's fifth Big East tournament title, one behind Georgetown and Connecticut for the most.

The Panthers also won three games to get to the title game for the fifth time in six years.

Demetris Nichols had 15 points for Syracuse, which has won four in a row after closing the regular season with three straight losses and Terrence Roberts added 13.

Carl Krauser had 16 points and five assists for the Panthers, and Aaron Gray had 14 points and 12 rebounds and Antonio Graves added 14 points.

McNamara's last 3-pointer of the game ended a 41/2-minute field goal drought for the Orange and gave them the lead for good at 50-48 with 8:18 to go.

Graves made two free throws with 18 seconds left to bring Pitt within 61-58, but converted both ends of a 1-and-1 a second later to make it a five-point lead.

Krauser hit a 3-pointer with 7.7 seconds left to get the Panthers within one possession again, but Wright again converted a one-and-one for the final margin.