The Syracuse Orange, even its staunchest fans would admit, were at least a little ripe for the picking.
Coming off a season which began with the dismissal of associate head coach Bernie Fine after two former ball boys accused him of sexually molesting them in the 1980s, the Orange has had plenty of distractions this season.
Just before the Big East tournament, a competition it came up woefully short in, word surfaced that the school had self-reported possible violations of its internal drug policy by former members of the team and that the NCAA was investigating.
Then just before the tournament defensive game changer Fab Melo was ruled ineligible to play.
All in all a tumultuous season in which the Orange somehow still managed to go an incredible 31-2.
But down by four at the half to the Bulldogs, you had to wonder if it was all finally catching up to Syracuse.
Seniors Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine were non-existent in the first half for the Orange but rallied to contribute to a much better Syracuse team in the second half that survived this major scare with a 72-65 win.
But if Dickey, the Bulldogs’ senior guard who was a season-long 46.3% shooter, had even been a quarter of his usual self, the Bulldogs may have pulled off the improbable.
Dickey was good on just one of his 13 attempts, just 1-of-9 from three-point range where he was successful 38.1% of the time in the regular season.
Dickey took the loss hard, hiding his tears as he ducked his head under his jersey as the clock wound down but there was no hiding his disappointment.
His team was on the verge of basketball history, but like so many others before, couldn’t close the deal.
ABOUT THOSE REFS
Yeah, there is definitely some blame earmarked for the stripes in depriving us of an historical night.
Two plays in particular seemed to catch the eye of the CBS commentators.
There was the lane violation called on the Bulldogs after Jardine missed the front end of a one-and-one late in the game with the Orange protecting a five-point lead. Then there was the more egregious out of bounds call that replays clearly showed went off a Syracuse player and should have been UNC Asheville’s ball.
It wasn’t and the conspiracy theorists were off and running.
They had a right to be on the latter call which was clearly botched.
But on the lane violation, by the letter of the rule, the refs actually got it right.
Jardine’s first throw hit iron and bounced out into the hands of a waiting Bulldogs player who began the play behind the shooter.
The rule reads: “Players not in a legal marked lane space shall remain behind the free-throw line extended and behind the three-point field-goal line until the ball strikes the ring, flange or backboard, or until the free throw ends.”
The other side of that is this is a call that is rarely, if ever, made during regular season play, never mind tournament time. The Bulldogs have a legitimate beef.
THOSE OTHER BULLDOGS
Gonzaga has always been a team that attracts fans from all corners, mostly because of its history of knocking off more established schools. Everyone loves an underdog.
Gonzaga is no longer an underdog but its following has never been bigger north of the border than it is right now.
With Newmarket’s Kevin Pangos leading the way offensively and North Vancouver’s Robert Sacre carrying the defensive load, Gonzaga is Canada’s sweetheart, even if there are other teams, even in the same tournament with more Canadian content.
None though have two players as key as Pangos and Sacre to their fortunes.
Bob Huggins’ West Virginia squad got a taste of that Canadian content and couldn’t have liked what it saw. Pangos had seven points before the game was five minutes old while Sacre put Big East stud Kevin Jones in Sacre-jail, helping the Bulldogs get out to an early 17-point lead that was never threatened.
THE HOT HANDS
Rodney McGruder of Kansas State had 30 points and four steals to help the Wildcats to a 70-64 win over Southern Mississippi ... Jae Crowder of Marquette had 25 points, 16 rebounds, five steals, and four assists in an 88-68 win over BYU. McGruder, the Big East player of the year, made 11 of 16 field-goal attempts and was 6 of 8 from the foul line as he doubled his season average of 15.4 points.