|1988-1989 Syracuse Orangemen|
|Overall||30-8||NCAA Elite Eight||Schedule Results|
Coach: Jim Boeheim
Syracuse fans had a high expectation for the team as a veteran squad with All American candidates was returning to the hill. Sherman Douglas was leading the team at the point guard position, and was poised to re-write several Syracuse career records. Derrick Coleman shifted from forward to center to replace the departed Rony Seikaly. The high flying Stephen Thompson was handling one forward while highly touted freshman Billy Owens filled the other. Matt Roe would be the outside shooting threat.
The Orangemen started the year ranked #8 in the country. They would easily beat #20 Indiana in the NIT Preseason tournament, a game which saw the famous highlight play of Sherman Douglas taking an outlet pass and hiking the ball two feet through his legs, to a Stephen Thompson racing to the basket for a dunk. They would beat #13 Missouri in overtime in the NIT finals to win that tournament.
Syracuse would start the Big East season at 13-0, having risen to #2 in the country. They would not stay at #2 very long as they stumbled badly at the beginning of the Big East season, losing four of their first five. Pittsburgh would knock Syracuse from the unbeaten in a close game that saw the Orangemen shoot a miserable 15 of 35 from the free throw line; Thompson would be the worst culprit going 4 for 13 at the charity line. Coleman had a great night of rebounding with 22 but that was not enough to overcome the twenty missed free throws.
They would easily beat #10 ranked Seton Hall before losing to Villanova in a close game. The Orange struggled shooting that day; Thompson had the worst shooting game of his career going 0 for 7 for the day. The Orangemen would lose the next game against St. John's as Douglas hurt his back, and played only four minutes. Syracuse kept it close, but without their floor general, they found it hard to run the court, and they lost 65-63. Douglas would play in pain against Connecticut in the next game, but it was not enough as the Orangemen lost again.
The Orangemen had a team with tremendous rebounding ability and offensive firepower. Douglas had mastered the alley-oop pass in his fourth year of college ball, and the athletic Orangemen, especially Thompson, took advantage of this skill frequently. The team's downside was their inconsistent free throw shooting, and their inconsistent defensive play. Coach Jim Boeheim had a tough time convincing the team to play hard nosed defense routinely, with the team relying on their offensive skill to overcome defensive shortcomings. When the team played focused defense they were extremely hard to beat.
The Orangemen would go on a seven game winning streak, which included two more top twenty wins. Against Notre Dame, the team was 40 of 56 from the floor (71%) for the game. Against Providence, Douglas would tie the NCAA record for assists in a game with 22, and break the Big East and Syracuse records. The Orangemen converted on six alley-oops that game. Thompson was 13-16 for 29 points.
Syracuse had risen back to #9 in the polls and went to Georgetown to play the #2 ranked Hoyas. The Hoyas did an excellent job of defending the Syracuse lob passes, and slowed the game down, with Georgetown winning 61-54. Coleman had a solid game with 22 points and 11 rebounds against the Hoya twin towers of Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutumbo, but the rest of the Orangemen could not get their game going.
The Orangemen would win their next three games, including a big win over the University of Kentucky. On February 28th, Syracuse played Connecticut in the Carrier Dome for what would be a night of record breaking. Sherman Douglas would break Dave Bing's all time school scoring record early in the game. Later in that same game, Douglas would break the NCAA all-time assist record with a pass to Owens, as the Orangemen easily beat the Huskies.
They would stumble against unranked Boston College, with a 90-87 loss, before meeting Georgetown for their last home game of the season. A NCAA record crowd of 32,683 showed up to watch another memorable Syracuse/Georgetown battle.
The Hoyas dominated the first half, and led 57-43 with 12:28 left in the game. Boeheim called a timeout and instructed the team to play a full court press, along with a mid court trap, leaving Coleman back as the shot blocking safety. Eight minutes and eight seconds later, the Orangemen overcame the fourteen point deficit, and would take the lead on a Thompson dunk. The Orangemen would have a 19-2 run, that gave them a five point lead. The Hoyas would not give up, however, and fought back. As the game wound down, the Hoyas had a two point lead. Owens was fouled as time expired. The freshman forward went to the line, sank both free throws, and sent the game into overtime. Overtime would see the Hoyas take the lead three times with Syracuse battling back each time, before Syracuse took the lead and pulled away to win 82-76.
Coleman would injure his back during practice the week prior to the Big East Tournament. In the first round, he would foul out in 28 minutes of play versus Providence, though he did have 14 points and 13 rebounds in his limited time. The freshman trio of Owens, Dave Johnson and Rich Manning would carry the load down the stretch, as the Orangemen held off Providence for the win. Seton Hall would put up a good fight in the next round, but a 27 point effort from Douglas would ensure the Orangemen win.
Once again Syracuse met Georgetown in the Big East Finals, this time with Syracuse being ranked #5 and the Hoyas #3. Unfortunately, this time around would be all Hoyas, as Coleman struggled to move with his sore back, and would foul out in 20 minutes of play with only 2 points and 7 rebounds. Georgetown would win the Big East Title.
Syracuse would play Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Coleman would sit out the game to rest his back, and Owens filled in for the loss well with a 27 point, 13 rebound effort in what was an easy win for Syracuse. Colorado State slowed down the tempo in the second game, but it did not matter as the Orangemen still won by 15 points, with Thompson scoring 21.
The Orangemen would next meet Missouri, who they had beaten in overtime early that season in the NIT Finals. Syracuse trailed by seven to the Tigers in the second half before they rallied to take a nine point lead 56-47. Syracuse then had to make its free throws down the stretch as the Tigers tried to claw their way back into the game by fouling the poor shooting Orangemen. The Tigers got the lead down to three, but in the last two minutes of the game, Sherman Douglas would make all six of his free throw attempts to seal the victory.
Syracuse met #3 ranked Illinois in the Elite Eight. The Illini had no true big men on the squad, but they did start five players all between 6'5" and 6'7" in height, players such as Marcus Liberty and Kendall Gill. While having a short front court they had a tall backcourt. Syracuse jumped to an early 13 point lead in the game, and held on to a 46-39 lead at half time. The Illini dominated the offensive boards in the second half, and took the lead 72-70 with 6:24 left. The two teams battled the close score for the remainder of the game, but the Orangemen were never able to get the lead back as the Illini won and advanced to the Final Four.
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