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John Wallace’s son, Joey, plays in the Carrier Dome for first time

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John Wallace, in a Syracuse cap and Southern Connecticut sweatshirt, watched his son play in the Carrier Dome for the first time two decades after leading the Orange to the national championship game.

Courtesy of Southern Connecticut State University Athletics

On Sunday night, Joey Wallace grabbed his computer to watch the 1996 “Sweet 16” game between Syracuse and Georgia. Before playing in the Carrier Dome for the first time, he wanted to see his father John Wallace’s 30-point performance again.

He wanted one last glance at the iconic overtime game-winner Wallace hit that sent the Orangemen to the Elite 8 in Denver. Tomorrow, he would play against that same Syracuse program.

Joey Wallace plays for Southern Connecticut State, a school in New Haven with about 8,400 students that competes in the NCAA Division II NE-10 conference. He’d been to Syracuse before, practiced in the Carmelo Anthony Center, walked in the Carrier Dome “hundreds of times.” On Monday he finally got to play a game there.

In May, John called Joey with a question, then hung up.

“How would you feel about playing in Syracuse,” John asked.

Joey had no clue what he was talking about, then two minutes later John was on the line again. He told him that the Owls were playing Syracuse this upcoming season. Joey could not believe it.

“Are you kidding me?”

Whether it was for Syracuse or against, Joey always dreamed of getting the chance to play in the Carrier Dome. John told him about the 2-3 zone and how long and active the defense is going to be. The Syracuse Orange team he faced wasn’t the caliber of Wallace’s, that lost 76-67 to Kentucky in the ‘96 National Championship, but he still felt the effect of the crowd and atmosphere.

“Fans are diehard Syracuse fans here,” Wallace said. “I think I air-balled a shot, rest of the game my name is airball.”

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Joey said him and John have a strong relationship, one that stretches beyond their shared passion for basketball. He calls John whenever he has something to talk about, they both hit each other up with new movies they want to see.

Part of Joey’s pregame routine has become watching highlights of his father’s old games. Both the Syracuse ones and those from his seven season NBA career between the Knicks, Raptors, Pistons, Suns and Heat.

Basketball has been in Joey’s life from the beginning. He lives in Rochester and routinely visits Syracuse. The Dome feels like home to him.

“I've gone there to work out a couple times,” he said. “Had a workout there with Jalen Brunson and his dad, Rick Brunson. I'm around a lot. This past summer I just got a great workout in with Eric Devendorf, old time Syracuse vet. At the end of the day I bleed orange too.”

But at the DII level playing Syracuse never seemed likely. The closest he got was an in-conference road game against Le Moyne last season. During the trip, Southern Connecticut head coach Scott Burrell took the team to the Dome. It was cool, but far different from the feeling he’d get this week entering from the locker room in uniform.


NCAA Basketball: Duke at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Joey had never had that “wow” feeling any time entering the Dome before, but as he began to take warm-up shots in front of the student section, the notion that he was actually about to play a game against SU set in. Then he looked into the crowd and saw his dad.

John was wearing a Syracuse baseball cap with a Southern Connecticut sweatshirt. Not as bad as a half-and-half Wallace jersey, but conflicted nonetheless. Walking along the baseline behind the scorer’s table, fan after fan approached him asking for pictures before he took his seat court-side, ready to yell suggestions his son’s way throughout the game.

"He was so excited to see me out there,” Joey said. “We've been talking this whole week leading up to this game. He came and saw me in my hotel room earlier today, gave me a little pep talk.”

Joey stepped into the team’s line for introductions, the last announced of the Owl’s five starters. After the Wallace name rang through the Dome, the mix of 50-plus friends and family he had in the crowd along with those who googled his name realizing whose son he was gave a noticeable applause.

The notion that Southern Connecticut would be able to compete with Syracuse was not strong, but in the opening minutes Joey ran the offense, passing around the perimeter and finding space against the Orange zone around the perimeter.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia Tech at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

On the first possession, a string of passes set up a three for a teammate. Then he got his first shot on the second, a mid-ranger miss. The Owls grabbed the rebound. He got an offensive rebound on the ensuing miss, then set up Ulyen Coleman for another three after a foul call on Syracuse.

After Tyus Battle missed his first shot, Wallace got another. Isaiah McLeod, seeing the defense shifted too far to the right side, found him in the corner. He let it fly and nailed it. He put Southern Connecticut up 9-0 over Syracuse as Jim Boeheim called timeout.

“I'm the first guy out there on my team,” he said. “Getting up shots. I was ready and I was excited."

But a lead was shocking, as Syracuse continued to miss shots the crowd that applauded Wallace pregame gasped after three-pointers rimmed out. The Orange jumped into the full-court press, forcing some turnovers, but the Owls held on all the way until halftime with a 29-24 lead.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Media Day Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The lead disappeared, the Orange won handily as expected, but earned Boeheim’s praise post-game for beating Syracuse’s effort early especially in the rebounding department.

“They were good defensively,” Boeheim said. “They did a good job at staying off us and making us shoot jump-shots. They're a good rebounding team.”

Standing underneath the stands after the loss, Wallace said it was a big step for the team after getting out of a meeting in the locker room next door to the one his father once exited after every game. He hopes he gets the chance to play here again.

“In our league we're not going to face a team as long and as active as Syracuse is,” he said. “To be up at half against them is something meaningful ... now every time we go out and step on that floor, we're just going to act like we're playing against Syracuse University.”