Monday, March 28, 2016

Syracuse basketball forever.

The last time I boarded a plane to Mexico, it was the day after the New England Patriots won the Superbowl.  Today I am about to board a plane to Mexico and it is the day after one of the greatest Syracuse wins I have witnessed. And I've witnessed some pretty amazing wins.

The 2014 season in particular was filled with a thrilling undefeated streak that included so many gut wrenching games and buzzer beater wins. And the 2009 Syracuse vs. UCONN game that went into 6 overtimes during the Big East tournament is another that will go down in history. And last night's Elite 8 match-up against the #1 seed University of Virginia during the ongoing March Madness tournament was one of the craziest games ever and one that I am sure I remember for a lifetime along with those others.

So, let's talk basketball.

And if you don't care about NCAA basketball, you can move on. OR, if you are UVA fan (as I know some of my readers are), you can move on as well if you don't want to read about this game from my point of view. However, I have to take a moment to gush about this game because I still am sore in my throat from screaming and in somewhat disbelief that we won.

I have been less vocal this year than I have other years about my Syracuse basketball team. This season was the first season since I attended Syracuse that I have not gone to a basketball game. Being in Albany, NY just down the road, I was always able to go back for games the 6 years I was living there. And last year, Syracuse played against Georgia Tech right here in Albany so I was able to go to the game. I also fought hard to try and find a Syracuse bar in Albany last year but struck out a few times. So it was a bit of an uneventful season for me from 2014-2015, especially with the "self imposed sanctions" that had us sitting out of the tournament at the end of the year.

This season, with the addition of some friends who went to Syracuse who live here in Atlanta, I was able to track the team a bit closer and watched a number of games. I have gotten involved with the alumni association in Atlanta, and went to one of the game watches with Brick and some friends one weekend. However, we didn't really have a stellar season. As March Madness tournament came around, I wasn't expecting much out of a bid to the big dance. Until, on Selection Sunday, I received a text message from a friend saying that we were in.

I was ecstatic just at getting a spot in the tournament! We ended up a #10 seed and up against Dayton, so I immediately blocked off my calendar for the whole day when I heard that it was a Friday game. A noontime game meant finding a location with WiFi to set up shop while I "worked from home." Brick joined me and we watched Syracuse coast through their first round game against Dayton.

Following that Friday game, we played again on Sunday evening, where I got together with Brick, Ayanna, and 6 or so other Syracuse fans to watch us beat Middle Tennessee. Middle Tennessee had pulled one of the biggest upsets early in the tournament, as a #15 seed beating #2 Michigan State.

This past Friday, we all got together again, however, this time joining the Syracuse alumni association for their game watch - which happened to be the same bar that the New England Patriots Fan Club in Atlanta uses as their hometown bar.

The game was a struggle for a bit with Syracuse not shooting well, but we somehow slipped by Gonzaga to make it into the Elite 8. This game involved lots of rowdiness, yelling, foot stomping, and all around excitement by the entire bar. I really could not believe that we had made it this far into the tournament that many said we never should have been a part of in the first place.

Especially after this game, the hate messages and complaints on Syracuse's "easy" and "lucky" ride into the Elite 8 were in full effect. Everyone said that we were "gifted" these easy double digit games to play. The Nunes Magician site was a constant source of great articles fighting back against all the Syracuse haters, defending the Orange. We didn't cause Michigan State to lose to Middle Tennessee! We didn't design the way that the tournament works! We just were playing the game. And one of the things that makes March Madness the great sporting event that it is -is that ANYTHING can happen. Once brackets are formed, your regular season play doesn't matter. Teams get hot. Teams choke. You see incredible "Cinderalla stories" from schools that nobody has ever heard of and you see some of the great have bad years and stumble early.

Syracuse this year, came into the tournament with a losing streak at the end of the year, but have been making it happen.

They didn't get the nickname "Cardiac Cuse" for nothing. The team has a way of playing clutch basketball and pulling through in the last moment. Or choking after being hot for a whole season. Or totally shocking everyone and becoming the FIRST 10-seed EVER to make it into the Final Four.

And mind you, I am just talking about the Men's Basketball team. This year, the Syracuse women's team are in the Final Four as well! It's seriously been SO FUN to follow and watch these past two weeks.

Going into last night's game against University of Virginia, the alma mater of one of my best friends and a team that has had two great seasons in a row, I really did not expect to win the game. To be totally honest and I hope I don't sound like I didn't have faith in my team... but... I really, had no expectations of winning that basketball game last night. Virginia was ranked #1, playing great, has a team full of seniors, two 23-year old players who look like grown men, and Syracuse barely ekked by Gonzaga, spending half the game missing layups and what should have been easy shots.

We started the game against Virginia getting a short early lead, but then slowly dropped back. We were not playing well and UVA was pulling away. The highlight of the first half was when Tyler Lydon's shoe fell off mid-play, but he was passed the ball and hit a 3-point shot anyways. This had me screaming at the TV to keep his shoe off for the rest of the game. This happened just a few minutes before halftime and my college roommates and I were texting back and forth to have Boeheim's halftime adjustments be to take off one of everyone's shoes. Someone else suggested going Tonya Harding on the UVA player who seemed to be hitting 3-point shot after 3-point shot from way behind the line and Syracuse seemingly unwilling to do anything to stop him (okay that may have been me who suggested that.)

The cocky attitude of the UVA players was driving me crazy as they clearly thought their 21-35 lead at the halftime to have been a sealed deal on the game. They were celebrating after shot and one bench-warmer had me SWEARING at the screen to wipe the smug look off his face.

I was also wondering where all of the Newhouse kids were who should have been running the TV cameras behind the scenes because after every UVA shot they would show their band, fans, or players celebrating. I felt like they were not having equal treatment for the Syracuse celebrations (when there was something to celebrate...) It just felt like the predicted was happening, but that nothing at all was going in our favor.

Coming out of the half, UVA had a quick slam dunk and my friends and I were defeated just begging the boys to keep the score tight and at least not make this embarrassing on ourselves. I kept getting angry when they'd miss shots but just told myself to calm down, you expected this, and it's been an amazing season. I ordered some homemade potato chips as condolence food to alleviate the pain of losing a bit.

I'm not going to recap the whole end of the second half but at about 9:30 left, UVA hit another 3-point shot, bringing the score to 39-54.

And then slowly after that, something started to happen. Syracuse woke up. Trevor Cooney started playing like he wanted to make it to the Final Four. Malachi Richardson went HAM and carried the team. The entire thing was amazing to watch. As UVA's lead got smaller and smaller, the entire bar we were in went nuts. By the time we were down a point, everyone was standing and screaming. When we went ahead for the first time, everyone went nuts.

The last few minutes of the game were a hear attack in the making. My hands were literally shaking. I sweat through my t-shirt. And my anxiety was through the roof. I couldn't believe this was actually happening. We were jumping up and down, screaming to keep UVA away from the 3-point line and making as much noise as possible anytime anything went positive for the Orange.

I couldn't breathe as the game came towards the end and when it became apparent we were going to win, it literally didn't seem like it could be possible from where the game had been just a few minutes before. This was one of the biggest roller coaster games I have ever watched and in the words of Jim Boeheim, the best comeback the team has ever pulled. My condolence potato chips sat untouched.

We jumped up and down and screamed and yelled in the middle of a bar when the score flashed to FINAL. I legit thought I was going to cry or my heart was going to jump out of my chest and my body was shaking. HOW DOES SPORTS DO THIS TO YOU!?!?

The Syracuse crowd on Sunday night - Easter Sunday - wasn't as large as it was on Friday night, but man, we were all in the same boat. It wasn't as if this was a buzzer beater and we had been with them the whole time and had hope. What little hope people had going into the game, was gone. And then we won it. It was so amazing to be Orange last night.

I love this team.

I love these players. I fell in love with Malachi Richardson last night with the way he took control in the second half of the game and am so happy he is only a freshman. Gbinije. Cooney. Roberson. Gah, I love them.

 And say what you want about our coach. But Jimmy B, you're Syracuse basketball through and through.

This is how hard I was smiling at the end of the night last night. I couldn't breathe for what felt like hours. My heart was racing and my adrenaline was so high.

I had to pack for my trip to Mexico but all I could do was refresh my Facebook and Instagram news feeds and "Like" every Syracuse post I saw. All I could do was read everything I could possibly see. And then the Memes started. Throughout this whole tournament, it's been fun to see the posts and excitement from the past Syracuse players, including Carmelo Anthony, who helped us win the championship in 2003. He only attended Syracuse for one year but once a Cuse fan, always a Cuse fan.

And I won't get too much into it beyond this, because some of my best friends went to UVA and I don't like to trash talk other people's teams. I have never really been into antagonizing or trash talking. I am not a crazy sports fan in that way and I don't think it does anything to bash other people's teams. I don't like when people do it to mine and we all have teams that are near and dear to our heart. To the "hater" text messages I have been receiving... I responded back last night with a simple orange emoji and a "x2."  However, that being said... I got a lot of joy out of seeing this pop up over the internet.

Sorry bud, better keep your celebrations and smug faces and taunting til the very end when you are playing Syracuse.  I LOVE THIS TEAM.

I started this post by telling you that I am about jump on a plane. And we're boarding as we speak so I have to hit publish. I'm on my way to my first international vacation that I have had in a couple years. Yes, you read that right. Despite all my traveling, I haven't traveled internationally for a solely personal trip in a couple years and I couldn't be more excited for the week ahead.

Here we come Final Four and here I come Mexico!

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