- Salvador Dali
NEW YORK- We always want everything to be flawless in our lives. At least that's what we strive for. Whether it's a Thanksgiving dinner, a presentation to our co-workers, or a family picture
, we want perfection.
But we never really get there, do we? Something we tried to serve was too cold or too hot, if we hadn't flubbed those couple of words, if our daughter had worn a green shirt instead of red. It was good, but it could have been better.
Obviously, I don't have to tell you that Our Game is the same way. Have you ever seen or heard a completely satisfied college basketball coach? There's always something that a team did wrong, even in the most glorious of performances. The next challenge is always going to be harder, a team always has to get better to meet it, sometimes even in the midst of winning championships or historic moments for the school in question.
My first Red Line upset for Mid-majority had everything, really. It featured a heavy favorite, whose crowd filled the self-proclaimed world's most famous arena
(and, from my limited experience, I'm not arguing). The favorites got off to an early lead, looked like they would pull away, before the underdog stormed back, grabbed the lead, and wouldn't let go, even though the bigger school pushed with everything they had down the stretch.
It had a hero, who hit some impossible shots and kept his nerves in the final minutes when his team needed him most. And it had that moment when the buzzer sounds, when the victors can rejoice in pulling off the improbable, while the vanquished can only put their heads in the jerseys and look disconsolate on the way to the locker room.
But, even as Temple finished off its truly deserved 83-79 upset of previously unbeaten Syracuse Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, I had my conflicting emotions. First, yes, that was me wearing the orange shirt
that said "Syracuse" on it amidst a sea of orange at the Garden. Not going to lie to you on that one. It's still hard to root against your alma mater.
Second, while Temple was surely not supposed to win this game (it was coming off a mid-week home loss to Canisius), it isn't exactly Norfolk St. or Lehigh, the Owls have plenty of tradition, play in a relatively large arena in a major market, and - perhaps most importantly - look like they're soon to leave us when they go to play in the Big East (or whatever the conference will be called) next season. This is the fifth straight season that Temple has defeated a Top 10 team.
My sports writing career had its drawbacks, but of the things I loved is when I was covering a big game, one with an atmosphere, and you take a step back, try to remove yourself from the intensity of the situation and take in everything around you. Movements, facial expressions, the din of the crowd rising consistently as the moment arrives. It's beautiful, really, my idea of a temporary piece of artistic wonder.
And, as much as some modern sports writing tries to feed you a narrative, in the best cases, you don't know how it's going to turn out.
After Syracuse jumped out to a 24-14 lead midway through the first half, led by some trademark transition baskets and hot shooting, graduate student
Jake O'Brien, who was at Boston University for four years until this season, came off the bench to open up the Syracuse zone with eight quick points, the spark his team needed.
Then senior Khalif Wyatt made sure the Orange wouldn't get away again. In Temple's last marquee matchup of the season, two weeks ago just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Wyatt finished with just six points as Temple was blown out by Duke. He finished with a career-high 33 points on Saturday, a few of them from interesting spots on the floor and with different body contortions. Wyatt had Temple's final 10 points of the first half as they trailed 40-38 at the break.
The Owls scored the first six points of the second half and would never trail again, although it would be far from easy. But what fun would that be?
Syracuse tied it at 59 midway through the second half, and looked to have all the momentum with its full-court pressure wreaking havoc. But back-to-back superhoops by Scootie Randall and Quentin Decoursey - heretofore not mentioned in this tale - gave Temple some breathing room.
Temple had a seven-point lead with four minutes left, but again Syracuse put the pressure on. Finally, trailing by one, the ball came to Syracuse's Brandon Triche in the left corner with 65 seconds remaining. If you could freeze time in that moment, you could see the desperation on the faces of the Temple players trying to get a hand in his face, the anticipation of the Syracuse fans who thought their team might finally be grabbing the lead and avoiding the upset, the nervous looks of the Temple student section (who came out in good numbers), who saw a beautiful day possibly slipping away.
It was one of the great things about Our Game, that big shot in flight, probably in the air for maybe a little more than a second, but a time period that can seem interminable when it's actually happening.
Of course Triche's shot hit the back of the rim, Wyatt grabbed the rebound and then proceeded to seal the game at the free throw line.
Because they had to, I guess, the writers and broadcasters at the game centered around different narratives. Fran Dunphy outcoached Jim Boeheim because he made Michael Carter-Williams shoot the ball (he was the nation's leader in assists coming in) and went 3-for-17 from the field. Dunphy also had a brilliant gameplan to beat the zone, which was Wyatt and Anthony Lee (21 points, nine rebounds) playing well.
From a Syracuse perspective, the loss was clearly because of free throw shooting. In addition to Wyatt going 15-for-15, Temple was 29-of-36, while the Orange was 19-of-34 (Carter-Williams just 7-of-15).
There are so many things I love about Madison Square Garden: its location, its acoustics, knowing you're in such an historic place. One of the little things is its distinctive horn, more of a hockey-like buzzer, but you know when you hear it it's coming from the Garden. (The fact that the Garden will soon host NCAA Tournament games again is obviously awesome.) As it sounded, and Temple celebrated, I was slightly conflicted.
I had watched most of the game (in my orange shirt) in the Temple section because I attended the game with my friend from when I was a youngster, who went to Temple (Nearly two decades ago, I took a Greyhound bus six hours from Syracuse to Temple to watch a Syracuse-Temple Big East football game. That's dedication.). And the idea went through my head again that Temple had been here before.
However, I was looking way too hard for imperfections in something that was never going to be impeccable. Because nothing is.
The ramifications of this game may not last too long. Temple got a big win that will help its at-large NCAA Tournament chances should they need it, but the Owls will not have it easy in the brutal Atlantic-10 this season. Syracuse will likely regroup and has plenty of time to reprove itself when Big East play commences next week.
For one afternoon, though, everything was right with Our Game. Even if it wasn't perfect.