With 22 seconds remaining, and Syracuse trailing Florida State by only two points, Syracuse Orange starting point guard Michael Gbinije could only watch. The fifth-year senior had just picked up his fifth foul and was now forced to remain on the bench and witness a game that he called "a must-win" slip through Syracuse's grasp.
While fans and media alike continue to analyze the enigma that is Trevor Cooney–who missed a potential game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds after Gbinije fouled out–it's Michael Gbinije who will leave a lasting legacy at Syracuse.
Describing Michael Gbinije as the heart and soul of this Syracuse team would be an understatement. Gbinije finished Saturday's 78-73 loss to Florida State with a game-high 21 points and five assists. He also recorded four rebounds, and shot 61.5 percent from the field. It would only make sense for Syracuse fans to wonder if those final 22 seconds would have transpired any differently had Gbinije been out there on the court.
Less than two weeks ago, Gbinije eclipsed 1,000 career points–an accomplishment only achieved by two other transfers under head coach Jim Boeheim's reign–after he dropped 34 points and single-handedly lifted Syracuse past NC State to a 75-68 win. And this past Sunday Gbinije was named to the All-ACC Second Team, as well as the All-ACC Defensive Team by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association (ACSMA)
However, even those accolades don't properly do Gbinije justice in terms of what he has meant to Syracuse this season. For a team that has had to endure sanctions from the NCAA, the loss of their head coach, and swoons of inconsistent play, Gbinije has been their rock. The poster child of dependability. Gbinije started all 31 games for the Orange this season, and scored in double figures in every single one, a feat no other ACC player accomplished.
While Syracuse stumbled to a 19-12 finish, without Gbinije's stellar play, that record would have been much worse, Boeheim said at the annual Hardwood Club Sunday night.
"He's one of the best players in the ACC. I don't care what anybody says. There is no player that affected his team as much as Mike Gbinije affected his team, no player in this league. No player has done the things that Mike has done for us. ... The reason we made it through this year was because of one guy. It takes a whole team but we made it through because of one guy."
Gbinije currently leads the Orange in points per game (17.6, No. 5 in ACC), assists per game (4.5, No. 3 in ACC), and steals per game, (2.0, No. 1 in ACC).
Even more impressive is the fact Gbinije has remained Syracuse's most productive player–by far–despite averaging an astronomical 37.5 minutes per game, tied for the fifth-highest total in all of D-1 basketball according to the NCAA. Gbinije, who initially played as a small forward during the 2013-2014 season after transferring from Duke, is forced to carry such a heavy workload due to the lack of depth behind him. Kaleb Joseph hasn't been heard from since December, and Frank Howard remains a liability on defense.
Thus, when Syracuse squares off against Pittsburgh on Wednesday with their NCAA tournament hopes on the line, they'll most likely do what they have done all season: rely on the play of Michale Gbinije.