Syracuse provided no shortage of headlines in 2009. From Syracuse’s dazzling six overtime victory over Connecticut in the Big East tournament to the upheaval in the Orange football program, it has been an eventful year for the Orange faithful. Here are the top 5 story lines from the year:
SIX IN THE CITY
There were nine players on the floor tugging at their shorts, trying to keep from cramping as Syracuse and Connecticut were playing their six overtime in what will surely be remembered as the greatest college basketball game of the decade.
Then, there was Justin Thomas, a Syracuse walk on, doing jumping jacks while playing the seven most important minutes of his life.
Syracuse (then-No. 20 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) had so few options at the end of their 127-117 victory over Connecticut (then-No. 4 ESPN/USA Today, No. 3 AP) the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East tournament that Thomas, who had only played nine games that entire season, was inserted into the game.
Thomas would go on to grab a key rebound as Syracuse outlasted Connecticut.
“I’ve got no words,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I’ve never been prouder of any team I’ve coached.”
The game was the second longest game in NCAA Division I history, which spanned 3 hours, 46 minutes. Other mind-boggling statistics from the game: 244 points combined points, 102 of which came in overtime. Eight players fouled out. Six players registered double-doubles.
Among them Jonny Flynn, who went on to be named tournament MVP. He scored 34 points and added 11 assists while playing a game-high 67 minutes.
“I just wanted to get the game over with,” Flynn said.
It only took six overtimes to get there.
FLYNN, DEVO & HARRIS LEAVE – SU STILL THRIVES
The conference quarterfinals may have been the game that propelled Flynn to the NBA.
After averaging a team high 17.4 points and 6.7 assists in his sophomore season, Flynn declared for the NBA draft and was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round.
Flynn, along with juniors Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris all left the team for the professional ranks. Instantly, the team went from being a pre-season top 5 team to being a game that was ranked 34th by Sports Illustrated and virtually ignored in all of the preseason polls.
Syracuse used that to its advantage as it toppled ranked opponents North Carolina, California and Florida on its way to an undefeated 2009 (13-0, 1-0 Big East) and a No. 5 ranking.
Wesley Johnson, a junior transfer from Iowa State, has led the charge, averaging 17.0 points and 9.0 rebounds a game. He has been one of the main reasons why Syracuse hasn’t missed Flynn, Devendorf or Harris.
LACROSSE – CHAMPS AGAIN
There are clutch goals, and then there are clutch goals.
With 10 seconds left in the 2009 National Championship game against Cornell, Syracuse trailed the Big Red 9-8. Even worse – Syracuse didn’t have possession.
None of that seemed to matter to attackman Kenny Nims, who stripped Cornell’s Matt Moyer and barreled toward Cornell goalie Jake Meyers. Six seconds later, Nims took an impossible behind-the-head pass from teammate Matt Abbott and slipped the ball past Meyers for the game-tying goal.
That would set up Code Jamieson’s clinching score with 2:40 remaining in overtime for a 10-9 win, and back-to-back national titles for the Orange.
It only increases to the mystique of the Syracuse program, which produced its NCAA leading 11th national title (Syracuse has had its 1990 title vacated because of rule violations). It was the first time since the 1988-90 that Syracuse had repeated.
GREG PAULUS/DOUG MARRONE COME HOME
This was former SU linemen Doug Marrone’s dream job.
Marrone, the New Orleans Saints offensive coordinator, was hired as Syracuse’s head coach following the dismissal of Greg Robinson.
Marrone inherited a wreck of a Syracuse program, which had just gone through its worst stretch in school history, producing just 10 wins to 37 losses in the past four years.
“Not a lot of times in your life can you actually accomplish your dream,” said Marrone, who played under coach Dick MacPherson in the mid-1980s. “This is my school and these are my people.”
Marrone’s first year at the helm certainly had its share of difficulties, as Syracuse won just four games. But Marrone had provided fans what they haven’t had in four years: Hope.
One of the biggest splashes Marrone made was getting Greg Paulus, a Syracuse native.
After playing four years of Duke Basketball, the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2005 at Christian Brothers Academy came back to Syracuse to play football.
For a football team that was struggling for relevance, the arrival of Paulus brought instant credibility and leadership. Paulus, like the rest of the Orange, had an up-and-down season, finishing with 13 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, but Paulus did set single season records for completions (193) and completion percentage (67.7).
Still, for as decorated an athlete as Paulus was, he was a polarizing figure among Orange faithful. While Paulus certainly drummed up interest during a dark period in Syracuse football history, he also drew the most boos of any Syracuse player in the 2009 season at the Carrier Dome.
“I understand that’s just a part of sports,” Marrone said of the booings. “But Greg is one of us. He grew up here. He came back to do something that’s never been done before.”
MIKE WILLIAMS QUITS
Greg Paulus’ favorite target, receiver Mike Williams, drew headlines as well for his sudden departure from Syracuse.
In early November, Williams was the Big East’s top receiver tallying 49 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. At that point, Williams was named as one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the top receiver in college football.
He was well on his way to being selected in the first round of the NFL draft until he faced a second suspension from Marrone and chose to quit the team instead.
The move ended a rocky tenure at Syracuse for the Buffalo native. In 2008, Williams missed the entire season after he was accused of cheating on an exam and was suspended for the entire year.
During the 2009 season, Williams had been suspended for a game against Akron for violating team rules.
Williams compounded the problem by posting to his Facebook page “I hate college, I can’t see me doing this for long…”
The self prophecy proved to be true.
This story appeared in the February 2010 issue of The Juice.