Anatomy of a Loss: Here’s the X’s & O’s Behind Syracuse’s Botched Final Play

How did SU settle on that play with the season on the line? We break it down frame-by-frame.

Syracuse’s run to the Final Four was unexpected and there’s no doubt Orange fans will look back fondly on this season as time wears on. However, right now there is sourness over a final sequence of plays that helped end SU’s season. The final play, which ended in a wild, flailing attempt by Trevor Cooney, is frustrating for many reasons. After watching it a dozen times, it’s still hard to find a logical explanation.

The context of the play certainly doesn’t help. The ball was only in Cooney’s hands because Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche had fouled out. The fourth foul on Carter-Williams and the fifth foul on Triche were incorrect block/charge calls. They were not questionable. They were incorrect. This rule needs to be addressed immediately because it’s ruining the game (an article for another day).

With SU’s only two ball handlers on the bench, the decision-making came down to a sparingly used redshirt freshman. However, it was a decision by James Southerland that blew up the entire play.

It was designed for Southerland to come off a pair of screens from CJ Fair and Baye Keita, known as a double stack.

You can plainly see the setup as CJ Fair sets the initial screen. Southerland presumably makes a read as he takes a half-step towards the top of the key. Take note of Fair’s defender in position to switch if needed. Southerland sees this and decides to reverse fields. This is where the entire thing implodes.

In live action it looks like Fair’s defender isn’t switching, but merely showing, meaning that James’s defender still has to catch up. No matter who was going to chase Southerland there was still the Keita screen they had to deal with. It looks like if there was a switch, the new defender would wind up plowing right into Baye. At this point Cooney has already seen something he doesn’t like, and has started towards the hoop.


We’ve gone bi-color here. Red is for the designed action, and blue is for the “WTF is going on?!” action that winds up taking place. Southerland goes on a dead sprint for the other side like he had an option over there. If Jerami Grant is waiting on the other block to screen for him, this makes sense. Since Grant’s on the wing for spacing, who knows what James was thinking. As you can see in the red, Keita has set up for his part of the initial double screening action, meaning if Fair’s man had switched he would have run right into Keita. Would Southerland then have been wide open at the top, just like the play was designed for?

Another subtle part of how this play is defended is the work of AP Player of the Year Trey Burke. He’s on Cooney and shades him right, away from the play. Maybe Cooney thought Burke was giving him too much room and he could blow by for a quick two. If that was the case, he underestimated Burke’s recovery speed.

This is the money picture to illustrate “James, where are you going?!” Southerland comes to a dead stop in the lane realizing he’s going to run into Cooney. Burke has cut off Cooney’s lane to the rim. This is where not having Carter-Williams and Triche absolutely killed Syracuse.


If Triche hadn’t fouled out he does one of two things: 1) Leans in and tries to score over Burke. His upper body strength and size advantage gives him a much better chance at success than Cooney. 2) He realizes there’s still 9.7 seconds left and starts to dribble out.  He likely sees a soon to be open Fair circled on the left wing with his defender looking in the wrong direction. If MCW runs the play he either tries to get to the hoop using his length to get a semi-quality shot off or his propensity to jump-pass becomes a blessing. He would’ve gotten airborne and his beloved cross court jump pass would have been open to Fair for a game-tying three point attempt.


When the shot is taken Fair, the only player who was great offensively for the Orange, is wide open and hopeless at the top of the key. Hardaway is in a position to recover to Fair at the wing, but with CJ relocating he would’ve had to do a full 180 and then sprint to close out.

Syracuse wasn’t cognizant of the time left. Cooney had time to pull the ball out instead of forcing a wild shot that wouldn’t even have tied the game. If he had dribbled out, Fair was ready for the jumper.

A pressing question is what was the secondary option? Cooney might’ve been instructed to drive if he saw Michigan switching or Burke giving him the lane. If that’s the case, what Southerland did makes no sense. He should have continued and made the Wolverines switch, leaving more space for Cooney to play with underneath instead of driving into a packed lane. What more likely is a “screen the screener” play.


It’s really the only thing that makes sense of what was supposed to happen. But who knows why Boeheim would then lie and say the play was designed for James.

“Screen the screener” action would account for Southerland’s cut as he clears out. Fair would set a screen for Southerland (that he wouldn’t use), then spin off a screen from Keita that’s evolving. Fair would come off the Keita screen ready to shoot, or be covered because Michigan would have switched. This means with roughly 8 seconds to go, you have Fair iso’d on Jordan Morgan. Since SU needed three, that’s not ideal. But maybe he can drive and draw contact and get the ol’ fashioned three. Drive and kick would also be an option.

Because the play broke down so quickly, it’s very hard to decipher what was actually supposed to happen. We can definitively say a Hall of Fame coach likely didn’t draw up a horrible shot for his redshirt freshman who played sparingly this season. Michigan defended it well and certainly deserves credit. But based on what we’ve diagrammed above, the Orange made a mistake, making the loss even harder to swallow.

Posted: Craig Hoffman

32 Comments on this Post

  1. has Cooney ever been in a game this year without either MCW or Triche?

  2. Only for garbage time. The first meaningful possession with Cooney on his own was the most important possession of the season.

  3. OrangeCrush27

    I found this to be poor coaching on JB’s part. Obviously you have Cooney having the responsibility of running the point, which is not his position, and bearing a heavy responsibility to run the final play. Southerland was THE only option and it doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out who is getting the ball. Option 2 is Fair. This final play was not hard to defend against, especially with Triche and MCW fouled out.

    Why it’s JB’s fault comes prior to this final possession. With 20+ seconds left on the clock and Triche on the floor, with the ball, ‘Cuse didnt run the clock down for one final shot and down 2. With 1 timeout left, Triche drives to the hoop with too much time on the clock and commits a charge. Even if the call goes the other way or he makes the basket, your still giving Michigan a final possession to win the game.

    I also didnt agree with not playing Cooney more. He hit a 3 early and is taking out of the game until the last minutes. Obviously he hasn’t played well all year, but that three could have been a big confidence booster for him for shots later in the game.

    It’s poor coaching with a sprinkle of a few bad calls at the end that sealed our fate.

  4. It doesn’t matter. A good kid tried his best and came up charging. He’ll have to live with famous play for the rest of his life. That’s part of the game!! Make it he might be another Ernie Davis like or miss it and be Derek Coleman like!! Let it go!!! Most of us fans would of messed our pants under that pressure.

    But I can’t wait for College Football Playoffs. Only need more than 4 teams(more like 8)!! Image that!! DA get our SUFB back on board!!

  5. Jpastor

    I don’t think JB is going to throw any of his players under the bus in a public forum. He knew exactly what happened. Just like when Southerland fouled way too early and Boehiem gave him a talking to on the sideline. James Southerland just didn’t have a good game overall reacting to the pressure of the game, eexcept for the 3 at the end.

  6. In order to win the National Championship things have to go your way. The calls by the refs,every bounce the ball takes,you need to take control of the boards rebounding and most of all you shouldn’t let the refs get to you.

    It’s easy for a person to set in front of the tv watching the game and then after losing the game putting the blame on the coach because he didn’t do his job correctly.

    MCW’s let the team down towards the end of the game when he was needed the most. The referees were letting the kids play the game,fouls weren’t being called hardly at all. I think it was Robinson that fouled MCW by using a forearm and pushing Mike backwards,an offensive foul should have been called against Michigan and it wasn’t,MCW got called for the block. I think on the very next possession MCW’s comes down court and throws his shoulder and arm into Robinson in retaliation and picks up his 5th foul. Not a smart play on his part at all.

    Brandon picked up his 5th foul late in the game when he drove to the basket and received a charge call that should have been called a blocking foul against Michigan.

    I think the NCAA needs to change a rule that prohibits a defensive play from sliding under a player going to the basket for a layup especially when the offensive player is in the air.

    Syracuse didn’t get the breaks in a game that they should have won. If the Syracuse players would have played the game and not thought about the referees calls that were made,I think the out come of the game would have been a lot different. I really don’t see where it was Coach Jim Boeheim’s fault that we lost the game. I just don’t see it.

  7. Malone

    @Ron – Totally agree with you on the Triche call and I feel similar about the MCW sequence. I have a hard time blaming MCW for playing it the way he was just played, and I dothink he tried to avoid it, but was a bit out of control, a trait he has. Coach is to blame possibly for not reminding his players that they will NEVER get the benefit of the doubt by any ref, but it is very possible he does this. I think his bigger failing as a coach was his lack of adjusting to what was happening. He is known to be stubborn to a fault and I think this is one such time. It was clear we were getting beat on the boards, and Xmas wasn’t really bringing it on O either. I think Keita, who has been playing his best ball late in the season (he is a big reason we make the BE tourney run) should have seen more time. I think Grant should have seen more floor time too. He brought rebounding and energy that wasn’t there from Southie. He wasn’t giving up scoring, because James wasn’t doing that either, until Grant came in and showed him how to play at the rim with energy.

    At the end ofthe day, the O wasn’t on and defensively they played well enough to win despite what others will say about McGary, they lost it on the defensive glass. I am very worried about Xmas’ lack of hands moving to next year.

  8. Puttingthe ball inTrevor’s hands at that time was not the smartest thingacoach should or could have done. If the ball was passed to him in a position to get off a shot I could understand that although Trevor wouldn’t be my first choice.Thiskid panics a bit and isn’t yet comfortable out there.Southerland wad brain farting the entire game so his late game thinking should have come as no surprise. My first choice to control the ball would have been CJ who at least would have had confidence.Cooney may develop confidence by next year but Jimmy pretty much intimidated it him out of him this year.Another reason Jimmy should go. He can’t relate to the younger players and he never has. How many times have we seen him screaming at some kid. Remember,thats what we seeNo ,I,knot suggesting Jimmy beats up on the players physically like Mike Rice but he does use verbal assaults and PT as a weapon. Yes all coaches do that but Boeheim is over rated and this game is a perfect example as to why.

  9. @Malone;

    I couldn’t figure out as to why Baye Keita wasn’t playing more than what he did. Why didn’t Coleman get some playing time? If I’m the coach and see that the opposing team has a bruiser in center and I have one setting on the bench,whammo it’s an easy decision for me to make. Get him in the game and punish the opposing big man. Christmas is to passive in center,he needs to get an attitude if he plans to play center next year. Jerami Grant looked good and is going to be a bonus for us next season. My only hope is that C J Fair comes back for his final season as a senior.
    With the recruits that we have coming in for 2014,Syracuse seems to look stronger as we head into the ACC.

    I’m just wondering how many of you watched the Louisville/Duke game? Do you think that the ACC isn’t worried about Syracuse,Louisville and Pittsburgh coming into the league after the thrashing Louisville gave Duke? I’m going to miss the Big East Basketball that we’ve all watched over the last 30 years,but I have to say the new league is going to be even better and can’t wait for it to start in the fall.

    In closing my message to Syracus is this,if they can put a basketball court in the middle of the building down there in Atlanta,they why can’t you do it here?

  10. Malone

    @Ron; You are right, I think the ACC is dirtying their shorts looking at what’s coming in. If I am worried for any of the teams you mentioned, it’s us. The ACC is historically an outside shooting league. That can go bad for us (Michigan only wins because they hit some prayers from outside). As for the interior bangers on Sat. I am not sure I have issue in leaving DC on the bench if Matrix gets more time. I don’t think Michigan played a traditional post game and I don’t think DC knows the D well enough to make sure the back door is covered and step up on McGary at the top of the key. McGary’s passing hurt the most. That is the reason we have trouble with the likes of PITT and Marquette. Their bigs typically pass well. I heard Jalen Rose openlywonder why SU didn’t employ a hack-a-Shaq on McGary given how bad he is from the line. If you throw a 3 man rotation at the center, I can see this playing out, but like I said, his passing and his glass did us in, not his shooting as much.

  11. Chuck Yrigoyen

    And overtime without MCW or Brandon would’ve gotten us where … five minutes more of the season? Layup is made, and you have about 5-6 seconds left. Clock stops. Quick foul. They miss 1 of 2, and you have the only real chance for a win. Desperation three at the buzzer. No shot at winning that game in overtime.

  12. OrangeCrush27

    Ron i agree with you for the most part. MCW should have been called for the offensive foul, not sure if his 5th foul he did intentionally especially when he knew he had 4 fouls, but it was the right call.

    The NCAA did change that charge/blocking foul this year. A defender cannot slide underneath an offensive player while he is in the air. My only explanation is that sometimes the plays happen so fast, the refs dont get the right call.

    I will disagree with you on JB and his coaching during the game. JB should have utilized his final timeout while Triche was in the game and ran the clock down for one final shot. Instead Triche fouls out and your left with an inexperienced player to run the most important possession of the season and for some, their college careers.

    I also would have liked an explanation on why DC 2.0 was not used for the remainder of the tourney? Is he still injuried? I thought he may have been able to help with rebounding against Michigan.

  13. The only coaching mistake I saw was not keeping grant in the game. In his 17 minutes he managed to out rebound everyone on the team and score 4 points and had a block. Why on earth after the break did jsouth come back in the game when he was clearing having the worse game of his life. I don’t want to hear the senior speech you do what you have to do to win the game.

  14. Okay, let it go. There’s important football to talk about. Anyone else go to the open practice yesterday?

  15. I don’t blame Boeheim for this. Obviously, the play he drew up was not run properly. I give a HOF coach more credit than him telling Cooney to drive to the basket. What happened was that SU’s 2 best ball handlers fouled out. I think the play was designed for Fair at the top of the key. Cooney saw Burke playing off him and thought he could drive to the hoop and get a quick 2. When Burke closed quickly, Cooney panicked and flailed up a shot even though there was plenty of time to kick it back out. Perhaps, to a wide open Fair. When Cooney drove to the basket it confused Southerland and he got caught in a awkward position.

    It is unreasonable to expect an expertly executed play with an inexperienced, struggling Redshirt freshmen running the point. The only thing I fault JB for is perhaps he should have gotten the ball directly to Fair and had him make a decision to either shoot or perhaps kick it to Southerland off a Keita/Christmas screen. But if you want Fair to take the shot then it makes sense to put the ball in another player’s hands so Fair can get open for a shot.

  16. Carlton

    @Orangecrush27, No bring in DC would have been an awful idea. He barely has played down the final stretch of the season.

    @Tommy- I agree grant should have played more but at the end of the day ya gotta dance /w who got ya their cant fault JB for that. Also grant isn’t a shooter they needed southerland out their to spread the floor for the guards late.

    @Chris- JB is one of the more tamer coaches in the NCAA. When he gets mad its usely to get the players attention and correct what is wrong. Cooney was not his frist or even second choice but both those guys fouled out on bad calls. I dont mean to get on u but have u watched SU basketball games this yr? Fair does not have a handle. He would have gotten the ball ripped from him in the back court if he brought it up. Cant be mad at the choice of cooney. He was the only guard left. Lastly how does JB not relate to young kids? As he’s gotten older the recruiting classes have been better. That to me shows he knows what he is doing.

    Anyways its hard to be upset /w the blown calls anymore. Michigan won b/c of those 3 or 4 late 3 point bombs in the 1st half. Mcgary had a good game but still only had like 12 points at the end of the day. If Michigan does not hit those prayers SU probably goes into half down 2-3 points at the most. Time to move on no1 thought this team would get out of the 2nd rd and lone an behold SU ended up being one of the final 4 teams standing. Tough to be to disapponited in that.

  17. @Carlton,OrangeCrush27,Malone and to all who posted here about the game. Great discussion fellas. Great Discussion.

    @Derek;I agree it’s time to start talking football. Tis the season,let’s go Fizz,the fans need some “RED MEAT”(football)here.

    Go Cuse;

  18. @Derek;

    I just read that Syracuse has picked up another two players for the class of 2013,bringing the total to 21 recruits.

    6″0″ 188 lb. OLB Alryk Penny out of Hardaway High School,Columbus GA.

    6″5″ 250 lb DE Tyler Marona another JC player from Pasadena California.

    It kind of looks(to me)like Coach Shafer is restocking the defense. I thought that we were all told last summer and fall that Syracuse could only recruit 17 players and here we are now with a total of 21 and counting.

    Let’s get it going guy’s, so that people like Terry,Russell,Cuse Don’t Luse and others get involved again.

    GO CUSE

  19. I’m honored by your mention Ron!! I agree with Derek. Great run and there are memories there for ever but lets move on to SUFB!! I can’t wait for the playoff in College Football. But 4 teams is not enough. At least 8 to start. That would mean Conference champs and other high ranted teams would get in. Which unlike College basketball every game counts. And the Conference Championship game would mean more. The 1st game of the season means the same as the last game. Not like College BB which nothing really matters until bracket time.

  20. This message is to all of the so called pundits on ESPN,NBC,CBS and ABC that’s told us all year long that the Big 10 was the best and strongest conference in America in 2013. Well the Big East is sending the mens National Champions to the ACC in 2014 and for the women it’s an all Big East affair for the National Championship on Tuesday.

    What a way for the Big East to end. All of the “C7” schools were beaten in the tournament. Louisville(joined by Syracuse,Pittsburgh and Notre Dame) carries the Championship with them to the ACC.

    So fools who’s the best in America now?

  21. Carlton

    I hope the fizz keeps updates on the next recruiting class for bball. Summer ball gonna get rolling here soon. Want some updates on targets. I feel like this class will be importin mixed in /w the big class coming in this season.

  22. @Terry;

    We’ve had our disagreements over the last couple years Terry and will probably have some more this year. I can’t ignore the fact that your one of the staples of this board and your opinion’s,at times leaves me to disagree with them.

    We start a new year talking about our beloved Orangemen. As long as we try to stay civil to one another as well as the other’s that post here is all I can ask and hope for.

    Russell,I read an article about how well George Morris III and Devante MacFarlane are doing in spring practice. I think that there is a possibility that both of these guy’s get some playing time this year.

    I think that this season is going to be real interesting.

    GO CUSE;

  23. Wow great discussion guys. We’ll definitely have all your recruiting updates coming up for both hoops and football. It was important for us to wrap the season first though and we thought this article is something you couldn’t get anywhere else.

    A few things –

    1) none of this is on Boeheim, who handled it perfectly after by not throwing anyone under the bus, especially Trevor whose confidence was a problem all year. JB drew up a play and it wasn’t executed. That’s college basketball. Anyone who thinks he should go isn’t paying attention and doesn’t know a thing about basketball.

    2) Apparently Hopkins after the game explained what James did. He was supposed to go back door if he didn’t think he could get over the screens to the top of the key. I don’t like that design because there’s no way Cooney is confident enough to make that pass, but that explains what he was doing. In fairness, the lob was there as James’s defender was chasing him but again Cooney would’ve had to make a difficult pass. I thought about including this option in the original post but figured it was an unlikely design. Southerland made a questionable read and when he did, Trevor never gave it a chance.

  24. Malone

    @Craig – I am not saying Boeheim should go, but I thought he stuck with a few guys too long, all prior to the last play. Apparenly the folks at Chapel Hill still feel he won’t make it to the ACC. A friend of mine who is very tuned in to the scene down there wished me good luck without JAB, and Boeheim himself mentioned Roy Williams specifically when he was recently asked about “being back”. They also feel they will get Wiggins. Seems likely they are recruiting against us by saying JB will not be here next year.

  25. Carlton

    It comes down to 3 must gets in the class of 14. SU locked in Chris McCullough. The other 2 targets for the 14 class need to be Isaiah Whitehead and Goodluck Okonoboh. I feel next yr will be a good team but the yr after /w Ennis and Whitehead in the back court McCullough at one wing Roberston/Grant at the other and DC/Okonoboh in the middle we will have a very good chance to cut the nets down.

  26. Carlton

    @Malone,

    SU has out recruited both Duke and UNC the past few yrs. If Wiggins picks any other school then FSU or UK everyone and i mean everyone would be shocked. KU I guess you could say has a slim chance but its pretty much UK or FSU at this point.

  27. Malone

    @Carlton
    Agree, and I told my boy just that (FSU or UK). Still the thought occured to me that other teams are likely using questions about JB’s longevity against us, and that alone makes the silly Hop to USC thing a much bigger bullet to have dodged. This program is startingto look like a well oiled machine! I like Kaleb Joseph as well. His court presence is fun to watch. Ennis may try one and done, but even if not, always good to have a PG that can distribute, having two? Wow.

  28. Carlton

    @Malone-

    I dont think Ennis will be one and done. Next yr the draft will be loaded think he comes back. Like Joseph to just don’t know if will have the #’s to offer. SU would have 2 Sr’s in fair and keita but unless someone else leave SU might not even be able to sign all 3 i mentioned if i’m doing the math right.

  29. @Malone – how does what UNC people think have any value. He’s coming back and the negative recruiting won’t work especially with Hopkins not leaving. Hop is the key cog in recruiting so players won’t be deterred if Boeheim leaves knowing Hop’s their guy.

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