It was February of 2014, and Syracuse was off to its best start in school history at 23-0. After a win over Duke in the Dome, and following it by topping Notre Dame and Clemson, the Orange was on a high, ranked #1 in the country for the first time that season. And then the Orange headed into a tough environment at the Peterson Events Center at Pittsburgh University. Let’s relieve it through the voices of WAER’s Gabe Altieri, who called the game, Mike Waters from Syracuse.com and Tyler Ennis himself.
Gabe Altieri, WAER: This was pretty much the high point of the season when you are looking back on it. You’re coming off a game against Duke where Jerami Grant and CJ Fair put up season highs, I believe career highs too. You’re feeling as good as you ended up feeling about this team all year. It was the first time they really felt like the number one team in the country, and one of the best.
Tyler Ennis, SU Point Guard: Win the rivalry. I mean, we were undefeated at the time, but we just wanted to win all the rivalries we had.
Mike Waters, Syracuse.com: (telling ACC writers) The Peterson Events Center is going to be the closest environment you have ever seen to Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Altieri: The Oakland Zoo is one of the craziest environments in college sports, and you’re going in and the crowd is screaming. And you’re just kind of like, alright, let’s go, let’s do this thing.
Ennis: From when I stepped out of the tunnel to warm up, they were on me. Talking about everything from my little sister, to my parents, to the shoes I was wearing.
Waters: The students there ring the court ¾ of the way around. From one basket, down one sideline behind the other basket, that’s where they put the students. They’re right on top of you. The Oakland Zoo is their nickname.
The teams went back and forth through the first half, with Pitt entering the break with a lead. And Ennis wasn’t playing particularly well.
Waters: In the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds of that game, eight points is all he had scored.
Ennis: We really didn’t play well that game. But I definitely remember just staying with it. We had played a lot of close games to that point. We just wanted to stay with it and we knew we’d have a chance to win at the end. We just kept playing, that was one of our worst games up to that point.
With 4.4 seconds on the clock, Pitt center Talib Zanna hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers back on top by a point. And then Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon called a timeout.
Waters: That was a huge mistake by Jamie Dixon.
Altieri: That timeout seemed to last about 10 minutes.
Waters: You had time to set your defense. Because I think your defense is the same whether up one or tied. And you had your team right in front of you, whereas Jim Boeheim was at the other end of the court. So he’s going to have a tougher time telling his guys right then and there what he wants.
Altieri: I turn to bring Ben [Fontana, his broadcast partner] in on a point, and I see Ben scribbling down on a piece of paper. As I’m looking down on it, it says “DON’T MESS UP” except it didn’t say mess.
Waters: I think Jamie Dixon did Syracuse a huge favor because he gave Jim Boeheim a chance to set up something.
The play was set up for Jerami Grant to inbound under the SU basket, but immediately, the plan was ruined.
Waters: After the game, Jim Boeheim admitted the Tyler Ennis shot was not what they had drawn up in the huddle.
Ennis: The play was supposed to go to CJ. I don’t even think I was in the play as far as being an option.
Waters: I’ve seen Syracuse run this play before, going all the way back to when Mike Hopkins was a player. He ran the baseline and then threw about a ¾ of the court pass to Conrad McRae and Conrad McRae hit a 15 foot jumper to beat Villanova at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia.
Ennis: I told Jerami that they are probably going to know that’s coming, so if he gets stuck I would be there to get us a good shot.
Waters: He [Grant] could have just thrown a desperation pass. But he didn’t. He held onto the ball. Tyler Ennis came back and broke lose. And that set up the play for Tyler Ennis.
Ennis: High School and other times, I’ve been able to take the game winning shot. 90% of the time it feels like it’s good, and 90% of the time it doesn’t go in. So when I let it go and it felt good, I was kind of like “uh-oh.”
Waters: You could have drawn a straight line from where Tyler was to the basket, through the basket to where we were sitting in the press area. And that ball was on a line. As soon as he let it go I was like “If it doesn’t go in, it is hitting the rim. It’s right on target.”
Altieri: You know they are already off to the best start in school history. So you know here they are either going to lose, or hit a shot at the buzzer, it’s not going to be a mundane ending.
Altieri: I don’t remember calling that call. I remember listening to it afterwards but I don’t remember actually the words coming out of my mouth.
How quickly did it shift from the Oakland Zoo going nuts, and going crazy to just, nothing?
Ennis: When I hit it I just wanted to let everyone know and bring the arena to silence, and that’s what we were able to do.
Waters: It just sucked the air out of the Peterson Events Center too. A very loud crowd got very, very quiet awfully fast.
Altieri: So we were looking down onto these fans around the circle jumping up and down. And once he hit the shot, I’ve never heard a building get quieter that quick. That was the quickest I have ever heard sound just stop.
Ennis: I was talking to [Bucks teammate] Jon Henson and he was watching the game. I remember last year we were in LA, and [boxer] Floyd Mayweather said he was watching the game. You know, it was just a game that happened to be on, and everyone was watching at the time, and it happened to be a historic win for us.
Altieri: I think that whole season was almost like a dream, almost like it didn’t happen with that team. It happened so quickly. People thought they would have Ennis for so long. So no, it doesn’t surprise me [shot’s place in SU history]. I imagine, they are going to be talking about this for a long, long time.
The tight win however got people wondering, was this a team that was on the verge of losing, or a team that couldn’t possibly lose?
Waters: You could tell that things were starting to catch up with them. This was a team that was living on the edge, living a little dangerously, and eventually those types of games were going to catch up to them. And eventually of course they did.
Altieri: After they beat Pittsburgh, you really felt like this team may not lose. That was the first time you thought this team may not lose. If they can win like that, they can win anyway.
Of course, the Orange would drop a game just one week later, and that started a slide when SU would lose 6 of their final 9 including postseason play.
Posted By: Seth Goldberg