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Remembering Syracuse 81, Kansas 78

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Gary Parrish at CBS Sports is running down his "10 Best NCAA March Madness games from this decade." The 2003 National Championship Game between Syracuse and Kansas has been selected as the No. 6 Game of the Decade and I've been asked to share some thoughts and memories of it.  Parrish's rundown and the game in it's entirety can be seen here.

It's funny.  Carmelo Anthony will always be remembered as the face of the Syracuse's 2003 National Championship.  His jersey will hang in the rafters because of it.  His legend hangs over every phenom freshman that enrolls at Syracuse...and any college for that matter.  He is considered by most to be the reason the Orange won.

And yet...when I think back to the 2003 Title Game, a Carmelo moment isn't even among the five things I remember best.  That's not to say he wasn't impactful.  Dude had 20 points, 10 boards and 7 assists.  He was a huge part of the reason SU won, not just on that night but the entire NCAA Tournament run. 

There's simply so much more to that game than just Carmelo.

I remember Gerry McNamara's clutch three-point shooting.  Before he was "Overrated?" and before "We wouldn't have won ten f***ing games!," Gerry was just a clutch three-point shooting freshman, trying to make an impact on the team.  He did just that in the championship game, shooting 6-of-10 from beyond the arc (6-6 in the first half).  And to think, this was just the beginning.

I remember Kueth Duany, the senior and Mr. Intangible of this squad.  Duany provided an emotional spark at multiple times during the game, including a big dunk early on to set the tone and a clutch free-throw that made it a three-point game in the waning moments.  They won't raise any jerseys or retire any numbers for Kueth but any SU fan knows how integral he was to this championship season.

Hakim Warrick scored six points in the title game.  Nothing much to speak of.  However Hak left the most indelible impression of all.  With time running out and the Orange up three, he seemingly came out of nowhere to block Michael Lee's game-typing three-pointer.  Not just block it, but send it into the stands with such authority that you almost felt bad for Lee.  Almost.  Today, all you have to say to a Syracuse fan is "The Block" and they know exactly what you're talking about. 

And of course...I remember that smile slowly creeping onto Jim Boeheim's face as time ticked off.  He contained it long enough to graciously wish Roy Williams and the Jayhawks well and then the celebration began. Watching Jimmy B cut down the nets and hoist the trophy high was as vindicating a moment as Syracuse fans will ever feel.

All of a sudden, Boeheim was no longer "the coach who had a lot of wins and even a couple Final Fours but couldn't win the big one."  Now, with just one win, he became "the national champion who, by the way, has taken three teams to Final Fours in three different decades."  Amazing how one win can change so much.

So yes, when most people think of the 2003 National Title Game, they think of Carmelo.  And that's fair.  But ask any Syracuse fan what they remember most about that game and you're liable to hear about twenty great moments that don't even involve the phenom freshman.  It was that good.

Further reading...Where I Was When SU Won The Title