The biggest fan in the building got Scoop Jardine's attention during a brief play stoppage with about seven minutes remaining in Syracuse's regular-season finale in the Carrier Dome Saturday evening.
"Hey, Scoop,'' 6-foot-11, 300-pound Derrick Coleman bellowed from his courtside seat. "You got no points."
The fifth-year senior guard was fully aware of that fact, but appeared undaunted. Jardine merely flashed that incandescent smile of his and directed Coleman's gaze to the scoreboard above the third deck.
"We're winning,'' Jardine reminded the legendary player-turned-cheerleader.
And, with that, Coleman nodded his head approvingly, and began smiling.
Sure, Jardine wishes he could have given the 33,205 fans a better parting gift than the bagel he put up in the scoring column during SU's 58-49 victory against Louisville. But these days this Philly phenom measures himself with a statistic other than points, assists and steals.
"Today wasn't my day, but we won and that's all that matters,'' Jardine said. "We got the 'W.' "
That they did. And "W's" are the ultimate stat for the point guard whose team-above-self spirit clearly has proven contagious.
Buying into that philosophy has produced a season unlike any other in the storied 113-year history of the program.
By beating the offensively challenged Cardinals, SU finished its regular-season 30-1 overall and 17-1 in the Big East Conference. Savor those numbers for a moment. Thirty-and-one and 17-and-one. Astonishing.
The beauty of this team is that someone is always there to pick the other guy up when he's having an off day. And on this day that someone was Brandon Triche. The junior guard from nearby Jamesville-DeWitt High School snapped out of his month-long funk, scoring 18 points, marking the first time since Jan. 28 he's been in double-figures.
SU also received a boost from James Southerland, who had seven points, four rebounds and three blocks in 20 minutes off the bench, and Dion Waiters, SU's other Philly phenom, who added 13 points, two of them coming on a SportsCenter highlight spin move that made Louisville defender Peyton Siva look like his feet were nailed to the floor.
Most impressive was the collective play of SU's defense, which had eight blocks and six steals while limiting the Cardinals to putrid shooting from beyond the arc (2-23, 8.7 percent). Yes, some of that had to do with the fact Louisville just isn't a very good offensive basketball team. But the hustling, long-armed Orangemen made the Cardinals shooters look even worst, something SU has managed to do against virtually everyone it has played this season.
It all added up to a continuation of the best regular season in Syracuse annals.
"That's pretty impressive when you consider all the great teams that have worn the orange,'' Jardine said of the 30-1 start. "We're very, very proud of that. But nobody in this locker room believes the job is done yet. Far from it. We want to keep adding on and make this season something really special. We got nine more games."
Next up is the Big East Tournament in New York. The top-seeded Orangemen have secured a double-bye, which means they won't play until Thursday at noon. Even if they were to get bounced in that game, they still would receive a No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAAs, meaning their road to the Final Four would run through Pittsburgh and Boston - two cities within easy driving distance of Syracuse. Two victories at each of those places would land them in New Orleans, a city where they won their 2003 national championship and lost the 1987 title game.
"We've accomplished some great things already,'' Triche said, after a 50 percent shooting day that also saw him hand out four assists and grab four rebounds. "But if we don't go far in the (NCAA) tournament, thirty wins will mean nothing."
That might be a little harsh, but you catch his drift. This team clearly has its eyes focused on the big prize. Even SU coach Jim Boeheim told his players before the season started that they had the potential to make a serious run.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who lost both games to SU after winning seven straight in the series, is impressed.
"The thing I like so much about this (Syracuse) team is that they make shots,'' he said. "We should have beaten them at our place but they are a very good team. We'll see if they're a great team come tournament time."
That we will.
NOTES: Jardine and Joseph were among the seniors who played their final game in the Dome Saturday, but it appears likely that Waiters and sophomore center Fab Melo also played their final collegiate home games as well. Each is expected to declare early for the NBA draft . . . Here's another good omen for SU: The Orange went 19-0 in the Dome, only the second time in the 32-year history of the building they've had an unblemished record there. The other time was 2003 - a season that ended with a national title . . . SU committed 15 turnovers, an unusually high number for a team that's been among the nation's leaders all season in assist-to-turnover ratio.
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