Texas Is the 1 and Only
As Carmelo Anthony cut down the net Sunday, an overwhelmingly pro-Syracuse crowd inside Pepsi Arena chanted, “One more year.”
That’s probably wishful thinking, but there will definitely be at least one more game for Anthony after he helped the Orangemen dismantle Oklahoma, 63-47, in a surprisingly one-sided East Regional final in front of 15,207.
Anthony, widely considered the best freshman in the nation, is expected to enter the NBA draft after the season. But he gave Syracuse fans hope that he might return to school after contributing a game-high 20 points and 10 rebounds and being named the regional’s most outstanding player.
“This is my first time making it to the Final Four,” he said, “and hopefully not my last time.”
To which Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim replied on cue, “I’ll second that one.”
Syracuse (28-5) will play in its first Final Four since 1996 when it meets Texas (26-6) on Saturday in the Superdome in New Orleans.
With a roster dominated by freshmen and sophomores, the Orangemen were thought to be too inexperienced to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But with Anthony, a 6-foot-8 forward, leading the way, they have grown up fast.
Sunday’s victory was their 12th in the last 13 games and noteworthy for its decisiveness. Third-seeded Syracuse ran top-seeded Oklahoma (27-7), the more experienced team, off the court despite committing 24 turnovers.
The Sooners, who were trying to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row, never figured out how to attack Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense.
Oklahoma made only 18 of 58 shots (31%), committed a season-high 19 turnovers and appeared out of sync the entire game.
“We haven’t seen a zone like that,” Coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We knew going in this was going to be a tough matchup for us.”
Syracuse’s defense was the twilight zone for Oklahoma senior guards Hollis Price and Quannas White. They combined for nearly as many turnovers (nine) as points (10) and shot a combined four for 25 from the field.
“Our guards obviously didn’t play as well as they’re capable of playing,” Sampson said. “But give a lot of credit for that to Syracuse. They’re a very good team.”
The loss dashed the hopes of Price and White, former high school teammates in New Orleans, of having a homecoming at the Final Four.
“It’s tough,” Price said. “We came so far and were so close -- 40 minutes away from getting back to your hometown. It hurts.”
With 6-6 Kueth Duany and other tall guards at the top of Syracuse’s zone, the 6-1 Price had trouble getting good looks. Oklahoma’s leader shot three for 17 from the field, including two for 11 from three-point range. He didn’t score his first point until five minutes into the second half.
“You’re playing against 6-7 guys at the top of the zone and also 6-7 guys in the post,” Price said. “We never faced anything like that.
“We should have attacked the zone more aggressively. We worked on it in practice. It just didn’t happen in the game.”
Said Anthony: “Their offense goes through Hollis Price. He’s the driver of their car. Once we took him away, everything just broke down.”
After getting off to slow starts in Syracuse’s first three NCAA tournament games, Anthony made his first jump shot and helped the Orangemen take a 10-3 lead.
“Carmelo got us off to a good start for a change,” Boeheim said. “That was nice.”
Oklahoma rallied to take its only lead, 17-16, on a three-point basket by freshman forward De’Angelo Alexander. Anthony answered with consecutive baskets to start an 8-0 run, and Syracuse extended its lead to 30-20 by halftime.
During the stretch, Oklahoma went 8:27 without a field goal.
“We took the lead and from there they had us on our heels,” Sampson said. “We haven’t played from behind very much.”
Syracuse held the Sooners scoreless for five minutes and scored the first eight points of the second half take its biggest lead, 38-20.
“It’s obvious our defense was the difference,” Boeheim said. “It’s probably the best we’ve played defensively all year.”