While the Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has been featured every so often in the 2K Classic, the tournament occurs annually at Madison Square Garden. The event actually began as The Atlantic City Shootout in 1995 and took place in Atlantic City, NJ. While the tournament has changed names throughout the annals, it’s been played every year in the non-conference portion of the college basketball season since inception.
As it relates to us here within this community, Syracuse has played in the classic five times. That’s tied with Texas for most appearances all-time in the event. That record will of course be broken tonight as SU will make its sixth showing in the tournament.
Jim Boeheim’s team first appeared in what was then the Coaches versus Cancer Classic back in 2002 at Madison Square Garden against John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers. That game was the inauguration of Carmelo Anthony’s college career. Despite 27 points from Anthony is his debut, Syracuse would go on to lose that game 70-63. Back then, the Classic was in showcase format, meaning the event wasn’t in tournament form so Syracuse only played one game.
Syracuse would return just two years later to the event as the No. 6 ranked team in the country and squared off against No. 14 Mississippi State. Hakim Warrick posted a double-double by scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds which pushed Syracuse to the championship game. The Orange once again faced Memphis, but this time would earn a victory with a final score of 77-62. Warrick scored 25 points while Gerry McNamara dropped in 21.
The very next year in 2005 Syracuse reappeared in the event and was ranked No. 16 at that time. SU took down Bob Knight’s Texas Tech squad by a final score of 81-46. McNamara, Eric Devendorf, Demetris Nichols and future Marist legend Louie McCroskey all scored in double-figures. The next night, Syracuse would come within two possessions of knocking off the eventual National Champion Florida Gators, but fell just short 75-70. Nichols dropped 24 points in the loss.
In 2009, Syracuse entered the 2K Classic field as the lowest ranked team at No. 24. The Orange faced off against California (well before Cal could get right back in this) and cruised to a 95-73 win. Scoop Jardine gave out 22 while Wes Johnson had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds. The Orange then played the No. 4 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game and won 87-71 behind Andy Rautins’ 11 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 steals. Johnson scored 25 points while Arinze Onuaku scored 15.
Most recently, SU played in the 2014 2K Classic but lost to California in the opening round. Cal finally got right back in this, and Syracuse played Iowa in the consolation game. The Orange won its second game as Chris McCullough scored 20 points while Rakeem Christmas had 18.
Syracuse holds multiple records in the tournament’s history, including most made field goals (137) and most steals (62). Rautins is still the all-time steals leader in the event with 17 while McNamara owns the record for most assists in the championship rounds of the event with 19.
Syracuse returns to the 2K Classic tonight and will tip tonight against Connecticut at 7pm ET — the game will air on ESPN2. The winner of that game will go on to play the winner of Oregon/Iowa on Friday night at 6:30 pm. Losers square off at 4:30 pm on Friday in the consolation game.