MBB : Calmness in clutch key for Devendorf, Syracuse in game-winner
Eric Devendorf strutted to the free throw line for two foul shots with 12.6 seconds left, down by one point and the game literally on the line.
Cincinnati called a timeout – and even stuck around for a few extra seconds – probably to ice Devendorf and definitely to figure out what they were going to do in the case Devendorf made the shots or missed the shots.
Devendorf walked back to the huddle with the eyes of 22,248 fans squarely between the ’2′ and ’3′ on his jersey. His reaction?
He smiled at the bench.
‘I’m not worried about it; I’m a confident player,’ Devendorf said. ‘Now I was nervous, I ain’t gonna lie to you. It’s positive nerves. I’m happy to be at the line. I’m happy to have the opportunity to win the game.’
Devendorf sank them both. SU went up, 77-76, and stopped the Bearcats on the other end to just escape with a win. Devendorf’s free throws were the game winners, his 16th and 17th point and perhaps his two most important buckets of the season.
It put SU up by one point after surrendering a 19-point lead.
‘This is the first game we’ve been down to the wire and made plays,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘Tonight we had to make four straight free throws.’
The other two free throws came from Demetris Nichols. Nichols hit his free throws with 34 seconds left to cut the Bearcats’ three-point lead to one point.
‘Just hit them,’ Nichols said. ‘Nothing else. There’s no pressure.’
That’s a senior talking. A senior who has played a prominent role in two Big East championships and has been a part of four NCAA Tournaments, not to mention dozens of close games.
On the other end was a Bearcats team which clawed its way back in the game but was loaded with junior college transfers playing in front of their biggest crowd of the season, in their best comeback of the season.
Cincinnati guard Jamual Warren – a JUCO transfer – missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the other side. Sophomore guard Andy Rautins scooped up the rebound and dished the ball to Devendorf, who was playing point guard with Josh Wright on the bench as part of an offense/defense substitution pattern with Rautins in the game’s final minute.
Devendorf brought the ball up the right side – by SU’s bench – and planned on penetrating to the hole. Down by one point and with Devendorf’s ability to finish, chances are a drive to the hoop will either result in a lay-up or a foul shot.
He never got inside the 3-point cylinder, instead losing possession of the ball as he was dribbling through his legs. When he reclaimed possession, Warren fouled Devendorf on the arm – an ill-advised play, although Warren appeared to be going for the loose ball and Devendorf just arrived at the ball quicker.
‘It was a mistake on their part, fouling me right there,’ Devendorf said. ‘When I grabbed it, he grabbed my arm.
‘That was going to be my shot. I was trying to penetrate to the basket. I’m just glad he fouled me.’
That’s when the Carrier Dome crowd looked at each other and realized Devendorf was going to be able to win the game from the line, where he entered the game shooting 81.5 percent and was already 5-for-6.
‘He’s good under pressure,’ Boeheim said. ‘He’s going to make most of those I think.’
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