BILL HABER / AP Enlarge
BILL HABER / AP Enlarge
NEW ORLEANS - Jimmy's kids did it last night with true grit well beyond their years.
Led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin, Syracuse won the school's first NCAA championship with an 81-78 victory over Kansas before 54,524 at the Louisiana Superdome.
The championship is the crowning achievement in the brilliant coaching career of Jim Boeheim, whose teams twice before had lost in the title game.
Syracuse (30-5), a No. 3 seed, became the fourth team from the Big East Conference to win the championship, joining Connecticut in 1999, Villanova in 1985 and Georgetown in 1984.
Kansas (30-8) failed to give the first championship to coach Roy Williams, who might have coached his final game at Kansas. He is the leading candidate to take the job at North Carolina, where he was a longtime assistant under Dean Smith.
This possibly could have been the final college game for Anthony, a 6-8 forward who would be a lottery pick if he entered the NBA draft in June.
Anthony scored 20 points, had 10 rebounds and dished out 7 assists. McNamara had all 18 of his points in the first half on six 3-pointers and Edelin came off the bench for 12 points.
Syracuse set up a no-running zone in the early going to slow down the transition game of Kansas that is the pride of the Jayhawks, who ran Marquette off the court in the semifinals by a 33-point margin. The Orangemen put the brakes on the Jayhawks with their signature 2-3 zone.
In fact, Syracuse kept beating Kansas down with a quick-hitting offense that featured McNamara's six 3-pointers and Anthony's all-around brilliance as the Orangemen led 53-42 at halftime.
The 53 points are a record for the first half of a championship game and the most in the first half against Kansas this season.
Syracuse was up by as many as 18 points, 47-29, on Kueth Duany's 3-pointer with five minutes left until intermission.
The first 15 minutes belonged to Syracuse, which raced to its big lead in breathtakingly easy fashion.
There was McNamara pulling up for 3-pointers from the corner, the top of the key and the wing. Wide open. With a defender's hand in his face. With a pull-up off a dribble behind a screen. It made no difference to McNamara, who made 6 of 8 attempts from beyond the arc.
When McNamara wasn't torturing Kansas with long jumpers, Anthony was posting up for turnaround jumpers, hitting from the perimeter or slashing to the basket for finger-rolls. With an advantage of four inches and nearly 20 pounds when he was being guarded by Keith Langford, Anthony found teammates open underneath for layups when he was double-teamed.
Kansas struggled from the perimeter but pounded the boards for many of its points as Nick Collison and Jeff Graves kept the Jayhawks within range. Langford had 13 points and Kirk Hinrich hit 3-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor and scored eight points.
Kansas opened the second half with a 9-2 run to cut Syracuse's lead to 55-51 with 17 minutes left. The Jayhawks did it with ball-hawking defense and a fast-break offense that was non-existent in the first half. Collison's tip made it 55-49 and his steal and pass to Hinrich resulted in Hinrich's layup and free throw to cut the deficit to 55-52.
Kansas kept coming.
Syracuse kept hanging onto its lead.
Kansas kept hurting its cause by missing free throws. The Jayhawks made just 12 of 30.
A big factor for Syracuse was Craig Forth, a 7-0 sophomore who clogged the middle on defense and either blocked or altered a number of shots. Forth's putback of a rebound gave Syracuse a 72-60 lead at 7:05. Langford cut it to 72-62 moments late with a short jumper.
Langford fouled out at 5:36 with 19 points and Syracuse leading, 76-64. Collison also fouled out, finishing with 19 points and 21 rebounds.
Kansas refused to go away and had a shot to tie it at the end, but Hinrich's 3-pointer at the buzzer missed the mark.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Phil Axelrod is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.29.95369 -90.07771