SYRACUSE - Shortly after the buzzer sounded on Syracuse's hard-fought 64-61 overtime victory against arch rival Georgetown the announcement was made that Jim Boeheim had moved past Dean Smith into third place on the men's all-time coaching victory list. His players gathered around him briefly on the Carrier Dome court named after him and the crowd of 27,820 roared its approval for win No. 880. Boeheim acknowledged the applause with a wave and mouthed "thank you" before walking, head down, through the tunnel to the locker room.
Minutes later, when he addressed the media, he was more concerned with the number 17 than the number 880. Seventeen was how many more rebounds the Hoyas pulled down Wednesday night. Thanks to Kris Joseph's career-high 29 points, including the decisive 3-pointer with 26.3 seconds remaining, the huge deficit didn't spell defeat.
But it will in the future.
"That's just a disaster for us,'' Boeheim groused, staring daggers at the stat sheet. "Getting out-rebounded 17 rebounds makes this a disaster game as far as I'm concerned. I'm very disappointed at this stage of the year to get beat like that on the boards."
Rebounding is as much a matter of effort and hustle as it is height and leaping ability. And on this night the Hoyas showed much more desire when tracking down missed shots.
"You can miss shots; that's part of the game,'' Boeheim continued. "There is no excuse for the way we are rebounding now. It's a team effort. It's everybody. It's not one guy."
Questions about the milestone were broached, but the man with more victories than any men's coach not named Mike Krzyzewski or Bob Knight wanted nothing to do with them. Rebounds, or lack thereof, dominated his thoughts.
If there was a silver lining it was Joseph's performance. The 6-foot-7 senior forward from Montreal hit 9-of-20 from the field, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.
The question of who will be SU's go-to-guy may have been answered.
"Kris bailed us out,'' Boeheim said. "He made some shots for us. Nobody else looked comfortable shooting the ball. We really struggled offensively."
The SU coach had an inkling the day before that Joseph might have a hot night.
"Yesterday (Tuesday) was the first day I can remember in a long time that he made a couple of (long) shots in practice,'' Boeheim said. "So, I was hoping that would be a good sign."
"The last couple of games I haven't been making those,'' Jospeh said. "But I'd been shooting it well - my mechanics were good,'' Joseph said. "Staff and teammates kept telling me to shoot the ball. Tonight's the night they were going in."
His last shot proved decisive - enabling the second-ranked Orange to improve to 24-1 overall and 11-1 in the Big East Conference, while dropping their rivals to 18-5 overall and 8-4 in the league.
"It was three options,'' Joseph said when asked if the play was designed for him to take the final shot. "Scoop (Jardine), Dion (Waiters) and myself. And for some reason (Georgetown) left me open. Maybe they didn't see the last four or five go in. I was open for the shot and knocked it down."
And by doing so, he enabled SU to outlast its traditional rival and overcome an enormous rebounding deficit.
But Boeheim is right.
SU was fortunate to win on a night when it was beaten so significantly on the boards.
If the Orange men want to make a run at the Final Four, they're going to need to start pounding the boards the way they did earlier in the season.
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