One of fourteen basketball players to have his number hanging in the Dome rafters, Billy Owens was a jack of all trades on the court. He could handle the ball, bang for rebounds down low, and step outside and shoot, everything you could ask of a 6-foot-8 forward. He also seemed to have ice in his veins.
After winning back-to-back-to-back Pennsylvania state championships, Owens came to SU when the Orange already had an abundance of talent. The 1988 starting lineup was the freshman Owens, Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, Stephen Thompson, and Matt Roe, along with Dave Johnson coming off the bench. Beginning the season at number eight in the Top 25, Syracuse breezed through the non-conference schedule, beating ranked foes Missouri and Indiana along the way. However, the Orange dropped four of their first five Big East games before righting the ship and winning seven straight. Owens was steady all season, playing in every single game (which led the NCAA) averaging 13 points and 7 boards. But hewill most be remembered for two free throws in the last game of the regular season. Number six Syracuse and number eight Georgetown faced off in the Dome in front of the largest crowd in NCAA history, and the Orange were down two in the final seconds when Owens was fouled at halfcourt. The freshman stepped to the line, and calmly made two from the stripe to send the game to overtime (SU won 82-76). However, SU’s star-laden squad fell to Illinois in the Elite Eight, even though Owens contributed 22 points. He was named to the All-Big East freshman team.
Owens remained dominant in 1989, averaging 18 points and 8 boards, and being named all-Big East He retained his steely nerves as well. The top-ranked Orange faced 15th-ranked Duke early in the non-conference schedule, and with the game tied at 76 after a foul from Christian Laettener, Owens sank two free throws to bust the Blue Devils. SU won the regular season Big East title, again beating Georgetown by two in the final games of the season, but couldn’t double down, losing to UConn in the tournament title game. The Orange lost to another Big Ten team in March Madness, this time Minnesota in the Sweet Sixteen.
After Derrick Coleman was drafted first overall in 1990, Owens was the only starter left on the Hill from the 1988 team. His junior season is still one of the greatest individual seasons in Syracuse history. Owens averaged 23 points (the first player to average 20-plus points under Jim Boeheim) and 11 rebounds, was named a consensus All-American, Big East Player of the Year and All-Big East first team member. He had eight 30-plus point games, and 10 games with 15 or more boards. Owens led the Orange to a 26-4 record, and a first place regular season finish. Unfortunately, Syracuse lost in its first game of both the conference and national tournaments, falling to Villanova in Madison Square Garden and Richmond in the first round of March Madness.
Owens chose to forgoe his senior season declared for the NBA draft after his spectacular junior year, and was picked third by the Sacramento Kings in the 1991 NBA Draft. His career was solid but he never became a star, partially because of recurring knee injuries.
Owens was named to the SU All-Century team in 2000, and his number was retired in 2008.