Wow, what a run.
My alma mater, Syracuse University, gave us fans quite a March to remember. Entering “Selection Sunday,” me and other members of Orange Nation weren’t quite sure if the team would make the field of 64 or not. Would we play in a “First Four” game? Would we be one of the first four out of the tourney, relegated to the NIT?
The NCAA Selection Committee gifted Syracuse a 10-seed and a first round match-up against a team that had beat us in tournament a few years ago, Dayton. That game took place in 2014 at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center. Coincidentally this year, due to circumstances beyond my control, I would be watching the game with my friends back in Western New York.
SU took care of Dayton with ease and hung around for a second game in St. Louis, against 15-seed Middle Tennessee State. This team had for sure busted brackets across the country with its upset of Michigan State, a two-seed.
Lighting did not strike twice. The ‘Cuse manhandled the Blue Raiders and moved on to the Sweet 16. I caught the game with my buddy Ryan on the Upper West Side. In the process, I found out that there is a Syracuse-supporters bar blocks away from my apartment!
This was the beauty of the run for me. I had little to no expectations for the Orange this March. The team’s march to the Final Four served not only a pleasant surprise but also as a wonderful opportunity to create memories with family and friends.
And for that matter, former March legends who continued on to have successful NBA careers. Syracuse’s Sweet 16 matchup pitted the Orange against Gonzaga in Chicago. The game was on a Friday night and tipped around 9:40 pm, meaning I would have to watch the first-half in studio and then hustle to that neighborhood bar for the second.
I arrived at Firehouse to a room full of ‘Cuse faithful, an empty spot at the bar and former UNLV and Knicks standout Larry Johnson… cheering on SU.
Of course, we overcame a second-half deficit to beat the Bulldogs and move on to the Elite 8. I was elated… and as I write this, I still can’t believe I was telling “L.J.” that yes, Trevor Cooney was in-bounds and that the ref blew the call. After he saw the replay, Johnson agreed with me.
Syracuse’s victory over Gonzaga meant that we would play top-seeded Virginia on Easter Sunday. I had 6:30 reservations for Easter Dinner with my family… in Hollywood, Florida. I immediately alerted my Mom that we’d have to eat early or I would probably not be at the restaurant.
Our 4:30 dinner was excellent and afterwards, my Mom and sister dropped me and my Dad off at a sports bar in Fort Lauderdale to watch the game. At first, it wasn’t fun; Syracuse trailed by double-digits at the half and at one point after halftime, the lead swelled to 16. My Dad, who for the record didn’t give us a chance from the tip, was ready to call it an evening and move along.
And for the record, my Dad as a witness, I can state that I never lost faith. I knew Syracuse had one more big run in them and figured that a number of players the team relied on were due for a hot streak. Thank goodness I was right, and the game turned in to an instant classic. Down went the number-one seed Cavaliers and off went the Orange to another Final Four.
Fittingly, I watched the semifinal game against North Carolina back at Syracuse. The trip was pre-planned; our annual WJPZ Alumni Birthday Banquet was pushed back a month this year to April. So I sat (stood) in the Sheraton on campus with classmates and other alumni, along with my professor Dr. Rick Wright, and watched SU’s season end.
For the record, I expected Syracuse to upend the Tar Heels and had requested Monday off from work to fly to Houston for the National Championship. But as Saturday night wound down, instead of sulking over a change of plans, I grabbed Pita Pit on Marshall Street and reflected back on all of the great times the Orange gave me this March.
All I could think was simply, “Wow. What a run.”