As we celebrate National Orange Day and prepare for Syracuse Orange's game against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on Friday night, we can look back to a bit of history (yes this was done before but it's worth another look).
20 years ago today, the Syracuse Orange upset the Kansas Jayhawks 60-57 in the West Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. It was a bit of an unexpected tournament run for a Syracuse team that had finished 12-6 in the Big East that year after rebounding from a 3-5 conference start.
When Syracuse upset the 2-seed Kansas, who were led by Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz, it sent the Orange fans into a celebration of their own. As a student at the time, the campus was certainly excited about the team's success and when we saw Al McGuire breaking it down to "Cuse is in the House" on National TV, that became the mantra all over Syracuse. In the days leading up to the Final Four, signs bearing that slogan began to pop up in the windows of businesses all over Marshall Street. (Sadly we hadn't reached the Golden Era of Syracuse T-Shirts at the time)
The Orange caught some breaks in the West Regional that year...which sounds a bit familiar these days. After beating the 13-seed Montana State 88-55, Syracuse got to face the 12-seed Drexel Dragons in Round 2. Drexel, behind Malik Rose, had defeated the 5-seed Memphis Tigers, but were unable to knock off Syracuse who advanced with a 68-57 win.
In the Sweet Sixteen, Syracuse faced the 8-seed Georgia Bulldogs and pulled off a stunning overtime win on a John Wallace 3-pointer. The game went to overtime after Jason Cipolla tied it with this shot:
Wallace's game-winner was part of a wild finishing sequence that saw three lead changes in the final 20 seconds, and maybe more surprisingly, no timeouts called. It's one of the best finishes in NCAA Tournament history, probably for the uninterrupted play as much as the clutch shots from both sides. In today's game, it seems like there would have been at least four stoppages in the sequence. Watch and enjoy.
Syracuse kept things rolling with a 77-69 victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs before falling just short of a National Title. The 76-67 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in the title game was disappointing, but with all the talent on UK's roster (Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, to name a few), Orange fans have fond memories of the team.
This year's Syracuse team still has a ways to go to match the '96 squad, but two wins this weekend and we'll be chanting "Cuse is the House! Oh My God!" all the way to Houston.