Exactly four weeks ago, after topping Colgate 78-51, Syracuse interim head coach Mike Hopkins said it was the Orange's responsibility to return a better team to suspended head coach Jim Boeheim than the one he left behind — to return the "Bentley" to "Dad" in good condition. But after SU's 74-73 overtime loss to Clemson here at the Carrier Dome on Tuesday night, the Bentley — whether it's Hopkins' fault or not — is now almost totaled.
"Dad might be a little upset," Hopkins said. "... I have to give the car back, and that's going to be hard."
Syracuse had plenty of chances to grab its first ACC win on Tuesday. The Orange led by three points with 18 seconds to play, but a perfect storm allowed the Tigers to force overtime. Then, in overtime, SU had chances down to the final buzzer to steal a win.
Instead, though, the Orange lost, dropping a third straight game to begin conference play and a fifth in the nine games since Hopkins took the helm. Those five losses came to three ACC teams and two Big East teams. Those were the only opportunities Hopkins had at a signature win, as the four victories came against Colgate, Cornell, Montana State and Texas Southern.
Now, Boeheim's suspension is over. It ended at 12:01 a.m. He returns to a team that, at 10-6 overall, is on the brink of serious disaster — if that's not what this already is. And if the Orange still have a desire to salvage something out of this season, he's their last chance.
After Tuesday's game, though, SU captain Trevor Cooney didn't want to ponder what Boeheim's return might mean.
"We'll deal with it tomorrow," he said. He then repeated himself after being asked another similar question.
"There's nothing really I can say or tell you," Cooney said. "We'll just deal with it tomorrow."
Cooney was visibly upset, likely because this was a game Syracuse so desperately needed to win. And it was Cooney who missed a 3 in the waning seconds of overtime, a shot that would have won the game for the Orange if it dropped. Instead, it clanked off the rim.
After the officials awarded possession to Clemson, SU's fate was sealed. Cooney, who appeared to have room to drive to the basket on that final possession, said he thought the shot he took was a "great look."
"It's a shot I've made a bunch of times," he said. "If I could go back, I'd take that same shot."
But Cooney never would have been in the position to take that shot if not for a sequence of events that allowed Clemson to force overtime.
With 18 seconds left, Malachi Richardson went to the free throw line after drawing a foul on his way to the basket. With the Orange leading 60-58, he made the first but missed the second, leaving the door open for the Tigers. On their ensuing possession, they worked the ball inside to forward Jaron Blossomgame, who then kicked it out to an open Gabe DeVoe. With 5.6 seconds remaining, DeVoe drilled the 3, tying the game.
Afterward, Hopkins said he wanted Syracuse to foul in that situation, which would have denied Clemson a chance to tie the game on that possession.
"We wanted to do it under (eight seconds)," he said. "There was kind of a miscommunication."
In the locker room moments later, Michael Gbinije said that "nothing was mentioned about (fouling) in the timeout," and that he thought the plan was to play it "straight up."
"We huddled up before we got on the court and said, 'No 3s,'" he said.
"Honestly, I thought we had the game won."
They didn't, and now they'll turn to Boeheim, who over a month ago left behind a 6-1 team that, after winning the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, had the look of a surefire NCAA Tournament team. Now it looks like anything but that, with Boeheim's return representing its only remaining reasonable hope.
"He's a Hall of Fame coach for a reason," said Gbinije, who also praised Hopkins. "Just having (Boeheim) able to come back, it can only help."