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23 Seconds of Pain: Breaking Down the End of Syracuse vs. NC State

Let’s just put it right out there – Friday night’s loss to North Carolina State was the craziest ending to a Syracuse basketball game I think I have ever seen.

I thought this one was good.
I thought this one was good.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There have been others, for sure. Hell, a few of them happened just this year: home vs. Duke, home vs. NC State, at Duke, at Pittsburgh, at Maryland. All five of those games had gonzo finishes, but nothing like what we saw Friday night in Greensboro. Not even close.

Since I am apparently a basketball masochist, I have watched the video of the last 23 seconds of that game approximately 23,000 times, give or take several thousand. And since I’m apparently a basketball sadist, I thought I’d share my pain with you. No need to thank me.

So let’s get out our whips and handcuffs and break down the film, Zapruder-style. If you can’t handle it and need to get out, the safeword will be "Bojangles".

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Crazy Finish To NC State vs Syracuse Game At ACC Tournament | ACC Must See Moment (via ACC Digital Network)

23.0: The clip picks up with NC State leading 66-63 and Syracuse with the ball after two made T.J. Warren free throws. Tyler Ennis careens through the lane with a righty dribble-drive, then tosses up a funky fadeaway floater that probably had Jim Boeheim contemplating a career change at 69 years old. I assume Ennis was trying to get a quick two to cut the lead to one, so SU could foul and put State at the free throw line with a little less than 20 seconds left. But he couldn’t get to the rim, partially because of good defense by Anthony Barber (his friends call him "Cat") and partially because of a bullshit charge call on Ennis almost exactly a minute earlier. Someone from State (Barber again, correct me if I’m wrong) flopped on the floor like a dying fish and the ref fell for it. After that call I think Ennis was paranoid about going hard to the rack and picking up another foul, which caused him to fade on the layup attempt.

20.1: So Ennis misses his wild shot, but from the left side of the frame Jerami Grant comes flying in and elevates for a monster putback dunk attempt. Emphasis on attempt. Of course in a sequence where just about everything went wrong for the Orange, perhaps the nation’s best offensive rebound dunker missed what (for him) seemed like an easy finish. The distinct ping of his dunk bricking off the back of the iron will probably haunt my dreams until next season.

19.1: Grant’s high-wire masonry work caroms out to the three point line, right into the hands of Struggling Trevor Cooney. I think that’s his actual name now. You know, the guy who is literally the best three-point shooter on the team. You couldn’t ask for anything more, right? Cooney catches the ball on the right wing, with his right foot behind the line and his left foot on the line, and the only NC State player within 15 feet from him is on the floor on his hands and knees. I don’t think Boeheim could have drawn it up any better if you gave him a week. So what does Cooney do? Set his feet and take a shot he has probably practiced a few thousand times this season alone? Nope. Take a couple of dribbles and try to get into the lane for a closer look? Nope. Instead, he…

18.0: …passes to a guarded Tyler Ennis! I said this on Twitter shortly after the game Friday night, but I think that pass answers the question of whether Cooney’s shooting struggles are mental or physical. A confident shooter takes that shot regardless of how many he has already missed. A confident shooter always thinks the next shot is going in, even if his confidence occasionally leads to a 1994 John Starks vs. the Houston Rockets type of terrible shooting performance. That’s just how shooters are, for better or for worse. Good shooters shoot when they’re hot, and if they’re cold they shoot until they get hot. The fact that Cooney passed up on that shot tells me he has lost faith in his own abilities. Now of course we can and should give him the benefit of the doubt because we know his ankle was bothering him. But honestly, if that was the problem, if his ankle was that bad, he shouldn’t have been out there with the game on the line.

17.2: So Ennis, presumably shocked that Cooney gave him the ball in the first place, is forced to fire up an off-balance, left-leaning three that had about as much of a chance of going in from there as it did from my living room. Though Ennis did have a good game (21 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds), and his 3 three-pointers kept SU in it, it’s asking a lot of a freshman who isn’t known as a dead-eye shooter to hit one on the move like that, under that type of pressure.

14.5: Rakeem Christmas (a.k.a. "Mr. Foul Trouble") corrals Ennis’s near-airball and kicks it out to Cooney, who had circled around the perimeter correctly anticipating the offensive board. Perhaps realizing he made a mistake four seconds earlier, Cooney launches a fading three that was so tightly guarded he couldn’t even follow through properly out of fear it would be blocked. So to recap: wide open shot = bad, closely guarded shot = good. Cooney’s heave hits the top of the backboard, coming within inches of going out of bounds. But...

11.5: ...Instead, Cooney’s miss lands right in Grant’s hands, who smartly turns and passes it to C.J. Fair in the deep right corner. Fair hastily retreated to the baseline and deftly set his feet before Grant passed the ball, so all he had to do was catch and shoot. I have to say, of all the shots missed in this sequence, I thought Fair’s was going in. I really did. He has hit those types of clutch shots in the past, and from this camera angle the flight of the ball looked pure. But it was not to be. Poor guy… you hate to see a well-respected senior like C.J. have such a bad outing in the second to last game of his career. (Joking! We kid because we love!)

7.7: Somehow the ball rebounds right to a moving Ennis, who this time passes up on a floater (which would have been an easier shot than the one he tried at 23 seconds) to dribble baseline and kick the ball out to a retreating Cooney.

5.5: Trevor takes one hurried (obviously) bounce to his right and fires up another off-balance three… which misses everything. That was pretty much the cherry on this turd sundae.

2.0: Fair tries to save the ball from going out of bounds, but is unable to overcome gravity and hover in the air long enough. I told him to work on his hovering skills in the offseason, but did he listen? Nope.

1.3: A camera catches a sideline shot of Boeheim looking like he had just eaten some bad Denny’s. I’ll be honest, my stomach wasn’t feeling that great either.

And that’s the ballgame. NC State 66, Syracuse 63.

Like many of you, I was watching the game at home. In the above 23 seconds, I somehow migrated from my couch to the floor in front of the TV, until I was about three feet from the screen. I have no memory of that happening. It’s possible I blacked out, or had a minor stroke or something like that. I had to look up the box score to review the official play-by-play, which when you look at it in black and white doesn’t seem so bad:

0:25 - T.J. Warren made Free Throw.

0:25 - T.J. Warren made Free Throw.

0:20 - Tyler Ennis missed Jumper.

0:20 - Jerami Grant Offensive Rebound.

0:15 - Jerami Grant missed Jumper.

0:15 - Trevor Cooney Offensive Rebound.

0:13 - Tyler Ennis missed Three Point Jumper.

0:13 - Rakeem Christmas Offensive Rebound.

0:12 - Trevor Cooney missed Three Point Jumper.

0:12 - Jerami Grant Offensive Rebound.

0:10 - C.J. Fair missed Three Point Jumper.

0:10 - Tyler Ennis Offensive Rebound.

0:07 - Trevor Cooney missed Three Point Jumper.

0:07 - NC State Defensive Rebound.

Ok, so maybe it does seem that bad. By my count (and I’m terrible at math) they missed six shots, five of them threes, and had five offensive rebounds on a single possession. That’s insane.

Again, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like that at ANY point in a game, let alone the final seconds of a tournament situation. It feels like the exact opposite of the UConn six overtime game, in that we’ll be talking about it for years to come – but this time without the happy ending.

Let’s just hope the NCAA Tournament committee rewards SU’s body of work this season with a high seed and games in Buffalo and New York City. I know it may be asking a lot, but I think they’ve earned it.