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I fully admit that I’m prone to hyperbole. I’m the guy who walked out of seeing Independence Day when I was in high school and was ready to declare it one of the greatest science fiction movies of all-time. So yeah… I’ve learned over the years that sometimes you need to step back and reassess things a little farther down the road.

But it’s hard as a sports fan to watch a performance like the one John Gillon put on last night in a 100-93 overtime win over NC State (on the road, no less!) and not start to wonder where it ranks among the all-time great individual games in Syracuse basketball history. Or, for our purposes here today, for the last 15 years.

I started thinking this morning about some of the other great individual (single game) performances in that span, and came to two conclusions:

  1. The three other games that immediately jump to mind are Carmelo versus Texas, McNamara’s 43 point outburst against BYU, and Jonny Flynn’s heroic effort in the 6OT game.
  2. That Carmelo game just barely fits into the last 15 years, and considering that was my senior year at Syracuse, this means I’m officially getting old.

But how do you determine what the best individual performance is, anyway? There are so many factors at play in a game, like how efficient the player was, how much pressure there was in the situation, the number of clutch plays made, and so forth. So I’m going to be looking at these four things, and let’s see if we can’t figure out which of these four performances was, indeed, the greatest:

Pressure

This one feels like a pretty easy category to rank. Obviously, any games that take place in the NCAA Tournament are going to rate higher, because it’s do-or-die. Conference tournament games are likely going to rate higher on this scale as well. So with that in mind, the pretty clearcut order with regard to the amount of pressure has to be:

  1. Carmelo Anthony in the Final Four win over Texas
  2. Gerry McNamara in the NCAA Tournament win over BYU
  3. Jonny Flynn in the Big East Tournament win over UConn
  4. John Gillon in a regular season win over NC State

That’s not to take away from Gillon’s performance or the importance of the game to this year’s team. It’s just hard to argue that there was more pressure on Syracuse to win this game, than any of those other games. Now, that’s not to say an argument couldn’t be made that Gillon and this year’s team needed this win more than, say, Flynn and the Orange needed a win in the 6OT game. That team was already locked into a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

This year’s team, meanwhile, is just barely hanging onto the hope of an NCAA Tournament berth, and at this point it still seems pretty farfetched. The Orange only have eight games left, with no easy games remaining and dates with the likes of Virginia, Duke, and Louisville looming. Last night was basically a must win for Syracuse, and Gillon willed the Orange to a victory. I’d be perfectly fine, to be honest, if you wanted to say that there was more pressure on Syracuse last night than in the 6OT game. But I’m just not sure I can put a regular season game from February 1 against a team that probably won’t make the Big Dance above one of the all-time epic games in college basketball history.

Efficiency

I mean, this one swings the complete other way for John Gillon. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more efficient offensive performance. And apparently, that’s for a very good reason:

That is insane levels of efficiency. Here are the shooting lines for Gillon, Anthony, McNamara, and Flynn in their four big games:

Gillon: 10-13 FG / 9-10 3PT / 14-14 FT (43 points)
Anthony: 12-19 FG / 3-4 3PT / 6-7 FT (33 points)
McNamara: 11-17 FG / 9-13 3PT / 12-16 FT (43 points)
Flynn: 9-24 FG / 0-1 3PT / 16-16 FT (34 points)

Gillon is far and away the top dog in this category. Getting 43 points on 13 field goal attempts is pretty much literally unheard of. Getting 43 on 17 shot attempts is pretty damn good, too, though it’s noteworthy that somehow, McNamara (one of the greatest free throw shooters in Syracuse history) missed four from the charity stripe. Carmelo only missed eight total shots (seven field goals, one free throw) while McNamara missed 10 total shots (six field goals, four free throws), but it’s still hard for me to jump Anthony above McNamara in terms of scoring efficiency here.

  1. John Gillon
  2. Gerry McNamara
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. Jonny Flynn

Overall Game Impact

Now obviously, the game isn’t just about scoring. There are plenty of ways to impact a game, like grabbing rebounds or dishing out assists. And, on the negative side, turning the ball over. Let’s take a look at those “other” stat categories for our four competitors:

Gillon: 4 rebounds / 9 assists / 0 steals / 4 turnovers
Anthony: 14 rebounds / 1 assist / 3 steals / 1 turnover
McNamara: 3 rebounds / 2 assists / 0 steals / 2 turnovers
Flynn: 3 rebounds / 11 assists / 6 steals / 7 turnovers

First things first: obviously, Jonny Flynn’s stat line is going to be a little bit inflated, considering he had six overtimes to pad those stats. That’s also why his turnover numbers look higher than usual (remember, he played 67 minutes in the game). On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to see that when he wasn’t scoring, McNamara didn’t do a whole lot to impact the game in the other statistical categories. Carmelo was dominant on the glass against Texas, and only turned the ball over once. But it’s also easy to forget or just completely miss the fact that Gillon somehow managed to dish out nine assists to go along with his 43 points.

In reality, this might be the toughest category for me to rank. You could make a real argument for Gillon, Anthony, or Flynn to be the top guy in this category, and I don’t think you’d be wrong for picking any of those three. For me, it comes down to what the other guys were doing around them, as well. Flynn had guys like Paul Harris and Andy Rautins making huge plays, so while he was fantastic in the game, it feels like Carmelo and Gillon did more to control the game. And at the end of the day, Carmelo’s performance against Texas may be the single most dominant performance by a Syracuse player I’ve seen in the past 15 years, on the biggest stage… so he’s getting the slight nod over Gillon for me.

  1. Carmelo Anthony
  2. John Gillon
  3. Jonny Flynn
  4. Gerry McNamara

Clutch Plays

For me, there are two guys that are pretty easily at the top of this list for me: John Gillon, and Jonny Flynn. Both McNamara and Carmelo were terrific, but did the vast majority of their offensive damage early on. McNamara scored 28 of his 43 points in the first half, though he did knock down 3-of-4 free throws in the final 16 seconds to seal the win over BYU. Missing that free throw, though, has to be a mark against him in terms of “clutch” (and we’re talking about one of the most clutch players in Syracuse history, so it pains me to do it).

Carmelo, meanwhile, only scored two points in the final six and a half minutes of that Texas game. That was when the Longhorns had cut it to 89-84, and Anthony scored a layup with 40 seconds left to push the lead back to seven points. Other than that, though, he wasn’t the guy making the offensive plays down the stretch.

So that leaves us with Gillon and Flynn. Flynn impacted the game in a lot of ways in clutch moments, though let’s be honest: as great as the 6OT game was, it’s going to be remembered as much for missed buzzer beaters as for any of the shots people actually made (or for Eric Devendorf’s buzzer beater that was waved off at the end of regulation). Still, Flynn assisted on the game-tying dunk by Rick Jackson that sent the game to double overtime. He missed a jumper with 10 seconds left in the second overtime, sending it to a third.

In the third overtime, he had the assist on the three pointer from Andy Rautins that sent it to a fourth overtime, though that clutch play really belongs to Rautins. In the fifth overtime, he hit two free throws with 20 seconds left to force the sixth overtime. And in the sixth overtime, he went 4-of-4 from the free throw line to ice the game (though the Orange had taken firm control by that point).

Gillon, meanwhile, had one of the greatest clutch performances in Syracuse history. With his team trailing 75-59 with eight minutes left, he kicked into a different gear. He hit a three pointer to cut it to a 75-64 game with 7:33 left, and after Tyler Lydon knocked down a triple to make it 77-67 with 6:43 remaining, no one but Gillon would score for the Orange the rest of the way.

Gillon scored the final 20 points in regulation for Syracuse, including the biggest clutch play in this entire discussion: his ridiculous three pointer with 1.3 seconds left, fading to his left and being forced to double clutch when challenged by Maverick Rowan. That shot forced overtime, where Andrew White took on the bulk of the scoring duties. But even so, after NC State cut it to a 96-93 game, it was Gillon who calmly went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final minute to seal the win.

  1. John Gillon
  2. Jonny Flynn
  3. Carmelo Anthony
  4. Gerry McNamara

I could really be convinced to flip flop Carmelo and Gerry, but for me, Gillon clearly belongs at the top of this section for his clutch play when it mattered most.

***

So, who had the greatest individual single game performance in Syracuse basketball’s past 15 years? Well, let’s go super scientific and take a look at our rankings:

Gillon: 4, 1, 2, 1 = 8 points
Anthony: 1, 3, 1, 3 = 8 points
McNamara: 2, 2, 4, 4 = 12 points
Flynn: 3, 4, 3, 2 = 12 points

Well, that didn’t clear up much, did it? With Gillon and Anthony tied, I’m going to come up with an on-the-fly tiebreaker: historical impact. Let’s be honest here, last night’s game against NC State was fantastic, and Gillon’s performance was magical. But in 15 years, will you remember it the same way you remember Carmelo’s masterful performance against Texas in the Final Four?

So with that in mind, we’ve got our winner:

Carmelo Anthony vs Texas in the 2003 Final Four

But damn, that game by John Gillon was pretty freaking electric last night, wasn’t it?

Have your say in my Twitter poll:

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