I almost missed my flight to Atlanta this morning. I missed my initial airport shuttle, got to the airport 25 minutes before departure time, got pulled aside in the security line, had to take a tram to my terminal and literally made it as they were getting ready to close the doors.
Perhaps it was an omen of some kind. Then again, I don't regret coming to Atlanta to see the Syracuse Orange compete in the Final Four even though they lost. And I'm still proud they made it this far. But my strange morning of mishaps seemed to be a precursor to the game I was traveling to see.
Syracuse lost it's National Semifinal match-up with the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, 61-56, in what was simultaneously a game that the Orange had no business making so close and yet probably should have won.
Basically, during the second half, we played amazing and terrible at the same time and I still don't know how it happened.
So weird, you guys.
Let's start with Michael Carter-Williams. After the game, my friend Bob and I went to one of the tents and bought Final Four t-shirts so that, unlike MCW, we could prove we were in Atlanta this weekend. I don't even know where to begin with him. What the hell was that? What was all that flailing? What were all those shots? What were all those choices? It's the only time I've ever seen one of my team's stars foul out of a game at a critical time and think to myself, "Thank God for that."
I can't believe that's the last game he'll (almost certainly) play in a Syracuse uniform. Oof.
On the other, C.J. Fair. CARL JUNIOR FAIR, you guys! I do not think it would be humanly possible to ask more of someone than C.J. gave tonight. He was the only guy in orange who decided "I'm taking over this game" and then actually did it with smart shot selection and great effort. In the off-chance it's the last we see of C.J., it was a fantastic performance. He has nothing to hang his head about (and I really, really hope he comes back).
James Southerland, where'd ya go, buddy? Right before James finally hit a three-pointer towards the end of the game, Bob turned to me and said "he's due." And sure enough, he finally came through. But it was too little, too late. Southerland was an absolute non-factor when we needed him to be at least a kinda-sorta factor. Shame.
Brandon Triche, unfortunately, did some rather Brandon Triche things. Most of his scoring came in the first half and we'll remember him more for the non-charge and subsequent charge call that ended his evening. Look, we can argue the charge call was bogus but, you know what, you had to know that if you kept going back to that well, you were gonna get called for a charge eventually. Triche did his flailing run-towards-the-basket-and-chuck-it-up thing one too many times.
Rakeem Christmas was in the line-up and showed up a couple times. Just thought you should know.
Baye Keita did some Baye Keita things.
Jerami Grant sure did play a lot tonight, didn't he? At one point, Syracuse had a line-up that consisted of Triche-Cooney-Grant-Christmas-Southerland and it was the weirdest thing ever. And this was in the first half! Like I said, weird game.
Trevor Cooney. My God, Trevor, I don't know what to do with you. First of all, I saw WAY too much of you this evening, though that's mostly because MC-Dubz was playing like a wounded fish. As for what happened at the end of the game, I will be forever confused. Confused why Boeheim put the ball in your hands. Confused why you didn't just give it to C.J. or James automatically. Confused why you decided to pull a Brandon Triche and just run at the basket full-speed when down three points with six seconds left. Confused why that was the last offensive play of Syracuse's season. Just flat-out confused. I don't even think it was mostly your fault, Trev, and I hope you use this to motivate you for next season, but...I'm so confused.
Otherwise, the game basically came down to three-point shots. If Syracuse just makes 2-3 more, they win. It's that simple. Michigan didn't win this game, they decided to give it away, started giving it away, literally handed it to Syracuse and Syracuse just handed it right back. Michigan didn't out-play Syracuse. Michigan didn't out-shoot Syracuse (correct me if I'm wrong but I think we had a better FG %). Michigan simply survived their own implosion because Syracuse imploded (while helping Michigan implode).
Like I said, all very confusing.
At least seven different times during the game, I said to myself, "they're clearly not winning this game, the video game has decided not to let us." And every time I said it, Syracuse could creep back within 2-5 points, and I'd start to believe that elusive three-point shooting spree was right around the corner. But I should have just trusted my instinct.
And so the season ends. Far later than any of us ever expected or had a right to expect. The time when we take a step back and call this season a huge success is coming sooner than later, but in this moment, it's hard not to feel like the Syracuse we've watched the last two weeks would have won this game. We just didn't get that Syracuse today. At least not most of the time.
More thoughts from Atlanta to come tomorrow. Sleep now, Orange Nation. It's been a long, strange, confusing ride. Plenty of time to digest it all now.