NEW YORK (AP)—Gerry McNamara stood near the Syracuse bench, exhausted and aching while his teammates mobbed him and the crowd chanted his name.
It was yet another special moment for the star senior, who’s having himself one outstanding Big East tournament.
“I’m just proud,” McNamara said. “I’m proud of these guys for the way they’re fighting.”
And he’s been the one leading the way.
In what’s becoming a familiar sight at Madison Square Garden, McNamara hit another big 3-pointer to get the Orange (22-11) within one with 52 seconds left, assisted on Eric Devendorf’s go-ahead basket and caused a turnover with 1.5 seconds left in a 58-57 victory over No. 23 Georgetown in the semifinals Friday night.
“Gerry has been great all year,” forward Demetris Nichols said. “I think this is the way to go out. He started off good and he’s going out with a bang. That’s the way to go out. I’m proud of him.”
And undoubtedly thrilled he’s not on a team playing against McNamara.
Big shots by McNamara helped Syracuse, the defending tournament champions, win its first two games this week. His 3-pointer with a half-second left beat Cincinnati 74-73 in the opening round Wednesday. In the next game against Connecticut, McNamara hit a 3 with 5.5 seconds remaining to send it to overtime, and the Orange won 86-84.
This time, McNamara did it with his shooting, passing and defense—almost willing ninth-seeded Syracuse to overcome the largest halftime deficit—15 points—in tournament history and become the lowest-seeded team to advance to the finals.
“You know, it was our time,” said McNamara, who has been playing through a groin injury for several weeks. “We didn’t want to come down here just to win two games and go home. We wanted to come down here and try to win it.”
Syracuse will get its chance Saturday night, when it takes on No. 15 Pittsburgh (24-6). The Panthers defeated No. 2 Villanova 68-54 in the late game Friday night.
With Georgetown (21-9) leading 57-53, McNamara hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game and set off chants of “Gerry! Gerry!” from the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
“When he gets those looks, he makes them,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “He’s a big-game player. He’s a big shotmaker.”
On the Hoyas’ next possession, Nichols deflected Ashanti Cook’s crosscourt pass, McNamara grabbed the ball and dished it off to Devendorf, who made a layup to give Syracuse its first lead of the game with 9 seconds left.
On Georgetown’s next possession, McNamara reached in and caused Cook to bobble the ball and get called for traveling, giving the ball back to Syracuse and sealing the victory.
“He’s a great player and he showed that tonight,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. “I mean, he willed them to win. He put them on his back and he willed them to win.”
McNamara, who finished with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, was swarmed by his teammates and was serenaded again by a long chant of “Gerry! Gerry!” Former Syracuse greats Derrick Coleman, Pearl Washington and Lawrence Moten also joined in on the celebration, coming from their baseline seats and embracing McNamara.
Syracuse became the fourth team to win three games and advance to the Big East championship, but no team has won four to win it all. With McNamara on the court, Syracuse can’t be counted out.
“He’s a terrific player who’s a senior who decided he doesn’t want to lose,” Thompson said. “That’s the long and short of it.”
Roy Hibbert led fifth-seeded Georgetown with 13 points and eight rebounds. The Hoyas’ downfall came at the foul line, where they missed nine of 17— including five of six in the last 4:10.
“You make your foul shots, and it’s a different game,” Thompson said.
After Brandon Bowman’s dunk gave Georgetown a 40-28 lead at 14:15, the Orange went on an 18-7 run—including three 3-pointers by McNamara—that was capped by Darryl Watkins’ layup off Devendorf’s miss to make it 47-46 with 8:14 left.
Hibbert followed with a jumper to give Georgetown a three-point lead, but backup Matt Gorman—McNamara’s best friend and roommate—drilled a 3-pointer with 7:18 left to tie it.
“He’s been trying that 3 all year,” Boeheim said. “I told him, `Someday, you’re going to make one of those things.’ It just came up at the right time.”
Hibbert’s free throw with 2:15 made it 57-53. But then it was time for McNamara to shine again.
McNamara was given a long rest just 2:11 into a scoreless game because of the sore groin after getting several breaks in the previous game against Connecticut.
“No matter how I was feeling, it didn’t matter,” McNamara said. “It was time to play.”
It was the 12th time the schools have met in the tournament, with both teams winning six times. Five of the meetings have come in championship games, with the Hoyas winning four.