As the Syracuse Orange prepare to take on the Georgetown Hoyas in one the final Big East battles between the two, I wanted to take a look back at my favorite personal memory of the series. I invite you to leave your own in the comments as well.
If Syracuse beats Georgetown on Wednesday and fans storm the court, it will be considered an embarrassment. Everyone will criticize us for it and it will seem to cheapen our season and the rivalry.
I agree 100% with that sentiment and I cringe when I look back at all the times we've stormed the court against the Hoyas. That said, storming the court after beating Georgetown in 1998 was one of my favorite memories while at SU, I'm glad we did it and if put back in that situation I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
You have to take a step back and get into the psyche of a Syracuse fan in 1998. Sure we were two years removed from a Final Four but that team was long gone. We had just sat through one of the most miserable seasons in Boeheim's tenure, a 19-13 season that ended in the NIT. And while this year's team had spent a good chunk of the season ranked, it still felt like we were under-performing and failing to live up to the lofty Syracuse name.
When Georgetown came to town on March 1st, the No. 23 Orange were 21-7 and the Hoyas were a mere 13-13. We had lost two of our last three and felt like the season was falling apart at the worst possible time. We needed to win to ensure a Big East 7 division title (the Big East had divisions then...long story) and get back on track headed into the BET.
It just so happened that two of my hometown friends were up visiting that weekend. It was their first time visiting SU and their first SU basketball game. One went to Marist and the other went to a pharmacy college in Philadelphia, so you can imagine that the Dome experience was a bit surreal for them. Plus, back then, students sat in the bleachers along the court and our tickets were killer, half-court and about six rows back.
27,726 fans packed the Dome for the largest crowd of the season. They spent most of the game watching the Hoyas dominate, taking a 31-23 lead into the half. Here we went again.
Down ten with five minutes left in the game, the Orange looked to the senior Todd Burgan to lead the way. After going scoreless in the first half of his final Carrier Dome game, he erupted for 19 points. With 22 seconds left, a Burgan lay-up tied the score at 68-68. He then prevented the Hoyas from taking it back with a critical charge but was unable to score a winning basket himself. Overtime.
The crowd was already surging at this point and you just had a sense we were going to storm the court if we won. It defied all the "rules" about court-storming but it didn't really feel like it was wrong. We wanted to reclaim something. Some kind of excitement about SU basketball that got sucked out the Dome doors last season. Of course, we had to win the game first.
Todd Burgan made sure we did, though kudos go to LaSean Howard who iced the win with a three-point play with seconds remaining. If I remember correctly, there was a false start court-storming just before the final moments. So when the buzzer sounded and we actually did it, there was no surprise.
The Georgetown guys left in a hurry while the Syracuse players ate it up. After it was all over, my friend from Marist told me he rubbed Boeheim's head in the madness. We stayed on the court for as long as we could, mingling, jumping, high-fiving and just marveling at the fact that we were standing next to Jason Hart, who seemed much taller at that moment than usual.
A friend of mine who couldn't attend the game but heard of the court-storming said it terrible that we did it. On paper, he's right. But courts aren't stormed on paper. They happen when they happen. Rules be damned, it was the perfect ending to another Syracuse - Georgetown classic and the perfect catharsis for Syracuse fans on that day.