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Looking back on the 2003 Syracuse Road to the National Title

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15 years ago the Orange cut down the nets so let’s look back at how they got there

On April 7, 2003 the Syracuse Orange completed the most impressive run in school history when they defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 81-78 to earn the school’s 1st NCAA Championship. A lot of people remember that the road to the title game turned into a de-facto Big 12 Championship along the way, but each game provided Syracuse fans with plenty of angst and drama.

Syracuse finished that season with a seven game winning streak including a rare late-season non-confernce game at the Michigan State Spartans. The Orange beat Georgetown in the Big East Tournament opener before dropping their second game of the year to the Connecticut Huskies. Syracuse was awarded a 3 seed in the East and had the good fortune of being placed in Boston with the Regional Final scheduled for Albany that year.

A Struggle to Start

The Orange had a tough opener with the Manhattan Jaspers. A four-point halftime lead was finally extended late to give Syracuse a 76-65 win. Syracuse’s bench keyed the win: Billy Edelin (6 of 9), Josh Pace (4 of 4) and Jeremy McNeill (3 of 3) combined to shoot 13 of 16 from the field.

The Comeback

The Oklahoma State Cowboys raced out to a 27-10 first half lead as their defense led by Tony Allen held Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara without a field goal in the half. Syracuse cut the lead to six by halftime and used a full-court press and another great performance from the bench to pull away for a 68-56 win. Edelin led the way with 20 points as he, Pace and McNeill combined to shoot 13 for 19. I think a lot of us remember the big comeback and the shot of a bloodied G-Mac hitting a clutch 3, but I don’t think we give enough credit to that trio for making sure Syracuse got to Albany.

Survive and advance

Syracuse’s next game was the opposite as it was the Orange jumping out to an early lead on the Auburn Tigers and with the score 37-27 at the half it appeared it would be a comfortable win. Then, Marques Daniels and the Tigers got hot to the tune of 51 second-half points and Syracuse escaped with a 79-78 win. McNamara was quiet, but Pace came through with 14 points off the bench.

Zoned OUt

If you thought the 2018 Orange zone was effective, consider that in this Regional Final Syracuse held the top seeded Oklahoma Sooners to 31% from the field including 5 for 28 from 3. Sooners star Hollis Price was 3 for 17 (2 for 11 from 3) on the night while Carmelo had his most efficient offensive game and finished with 20 and 10. The Orange used the huge homecourt advantage to earn a trip to New Orleans and the Final Four

Tea for 2

You tell me which is more surprising: a Rick Barnes team in the Final Four, or a Syracuse team scoring 95 points? The Orange held a slim 48-45 halftime lead but continued their torrid shooting to earn the 95-84 win over the Texas Longhorns. Syracuse shot 57% from the field and Melo was the best player on the floor putting up 33 and 14.

Hakim Warrick with the best play that didn’t actually count in SU history

The Title Game

The Syracuse offense kept their roll going in the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks as they raced out to a 53-42 halftime lead. For the game the Orange shot 11 for 18 from 3, led by Gerry’s 6 3’s in the 1st half. Of course we remember The Block by Hakim Warrick which sealed the 81-78 win and the championship, but this video from Brent Axe on syracuse.com might remind you of some things you might have forgotten.

When you look back at the run you realize how much each of the eight players who saw action contributed. Kueth Duany and Craig Forth didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but their defensive contributions were certainly noticeable throughout the six games. It was an up and down road for sure, but even 15 years later I’m sure there are plenty of moments that make Cuse fans smile.

What are some of your favorite memories from the 2003 title run? Let us know in the comments.