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Vintage G-Mac

McNamara keeps 'Cuse alive ... and Boeheim explodes

Posted: Wednesday March 8, 2006 6:14PM; Updated: Thursday March 9, 2006 11:37AM
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Senior Gerry McNamara led the Orange with 17 points and nine assists.
Senior Gerry McNamara led the Orange with 17 points and nine assists.
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NEW YORK -- Where would Syracuse be without Gerry McNamara? For one, if not for his running, game-winning three-pointer with 0.5 seconds remaining against Cincinnati on Wednesday in the first round of the Big East tournament, the Orange (20-11) wouldn't still be clinging to the NCAA tournament bubble. And if you believe what coach Jim Boeheim said in the postgame press conference, matters would be much, much worse.

"Without Gerry McNamara, we wouldn't have won 10 f---ing games this year," Boeheim said of his senior guard, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting. "Without him, not 10. We wouldn't even be here to even have a chance to play this game. And everybody's talking to me and writing about Gerry McNamara being overrated? That's the most bulls--- thing I've seen in 30 years."

Boeheim was still incensed over a story in Syracuse's student newspaper that called McNamara "overrated"; it ran three days before McNamara's senior send-off against Villanova on Sunday, at which an NCAA-record crowd of 33,633 -- many of them bused in from his hometown of Scranton, Pa. -- filled the Carrier Dome. And his coach chose the Madison Square Garden podium as his venting venue.

"[Our paper] actually listened to a couple of [opposing] assistant coaches who I guarantee you will never be head coaches if they think Gerry McNamara is overrated," Boeheim said. "Let the assistant coach come up to me and say, 'Gerry McNamara is overrated.'"

After the tirade, Boeheim turned to Big East media representative John Paquette, who was moderating the press conference, and said, "Is there a fine for that?"

The Hall of Fame coach (who does, after all, rake in a hefty salary) would gladly pay it on this day, after a 74-73 victory earned the 'Cuse a date with No. 1-ranked UConn in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Over the past two weeks Syracuse has been hanging on by the thinnest of threads, its bubble status deteriorating from "likely" to "doomed" with three straight losses to Georgetown, DePaul and Villanova to finish the regular season. The Orange were marching not toward madness but to the sad reality of the NIT, and McNamara, who ended his freshman season on the grandest of stages, sinking six 3s in a national championship game victory, was thinking, "This is my last year -- and there's no way I don't want to be in the NCAA tournament."

The kid known as G-Mac is one of the most beloved players in 'Cuse history, but even he would admit that his senior season has not gone as planned. He's been as much overburdened -- with no fellow stars emerging from the team's once-vaunted junior class -- as he has been overrated. The Orange lost his send-off game 92-82 to fall to 7-9 in the Big East; they had long since dropped out of the polls from their preseason No. 16 ranking. McNamara's career has spanned from national-title-game hero as a freshman, to willing the Orange into the Sweet 16 with a 43-point barrage against BYU as as sophomore, to exiting the NCAA tournament in a first-round upset to Vermont as a junior, to having career lows in both field-goal (.355) and three-point percentage (.325) as a senior -- and getting criticized in his own student newspaper.

At the Garden against the Bearcats, however, McNamara shot back. With his season on the line, he channeled the big-play G-Mac of old, drilling what was, he said, "probably the most important" shot of his career. "In the situation we're in," he said, "we're fighting and trying to battle for every game, and we needed this one."

On Thursday against the Huskies -- who have beaten the Orange twice this season by an average of 15.5 points -- Syracuse is going to find itself in an even tougher situation. Another fight, another uphill battle, just like they've been in all season. McNamara left the Garden on Wednesday saying, "I'm just glad I can keep us alive."

If 'Cuse is going to get off the bubble -- and allow its senior star to finish his career, appropriately, in the Big Dance -- it will need to upset UConn with another dose of vintage G-Mac. It may take a performance even more improbable than the gutsy one he turned in against Cincinnati.

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