My office at work is probably more of a shrine to Syracuse than my employers would like. Working in an NCAA athletics department (at the Division III level), it can be a little bit frowned upon to wear gear from other schools, so this summer when I put up my framed, autographed pictures of Jim Boeheim, Donovan McNabb, and Marvin Harrison, along with some championship banners, I’m sure my boss took notice.
Of course, they’re still up there, along with my framed Syracuse degree. The picture of my three year old son that sits on my desk features him wearing a Syracuse hat. Why am I telling you all of this? Well, because I walked in this morning, and looked up at the wall just inside the door to my office:
I was staring at that basketball banner and noticed right there, smack dab in the very center, is a final score that to this day still leaves me positively baffled. It’s a result that I’m sure a lot of Syracuse fans have blocked from their memories, but two words bring back that strange, disastrous game immediately:
Now that, friends, is a man whose name will live in infamy. What makes it even more peculiar that I just happened to glance up and look at that banner, and see that score this morning, is the fact that the Herve Lamizana game took place almost exactly 12 years ago. If I’d looked up at the banner yesterday morning, this would have worked out perfectly, wouldn’t it?
It’s kind of amazing to think that during that magical season, with Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara leading the Orange to the national title, such an awful blemish would adorn the team’s resume. The Orange had been 13-2 heading into that game, and were just started to work their way into the Top 25.
And yes, it’s incredibly strange still that Syracuse was only just starting to sniff the Top 25 in late January that season. Amazingly, the Herve Lamizana game wouldn’t even wind up hurting the team in the polls. That’s because the team would bounce back against No. 2-ranked Pitt just a few days later, in what was one of the most awkward court stormings in history as students rushed the floor not once, not twice, but three times while the final seconds played out, and then had to be played out again, and then again after Brandin Knight’s half court heave swished, seemingly giving the Panthers a 68-67 win, before referees determined the shot had come after the buzzer. And finally, the students were able to rush the floor, proving again that the third time truly is the charm.
That was my senior year at Syracuse, and I’m happy to say I didn’t rush the floor during any of the three attempts against Pitt. I rushed the court once, my freshman year when the team beat defending champ UConn on Big Monday, and that was enough for me. I realized how awkward it was when I found myself, face painted, standing opposite Sean McDonough at the announcers table, not entirely sure what to do now that I’d actually reached the court.
Anyway, back to that fateful January 29, 2003, and the bank shot heard around Syracuse, only to be almost immediately forgotten. Somehow, the Orange found themselves trailing by double digits at the RAC, storming back to tie the game before Lamizana found himself at the top of the key with three seconds on the shot clock, and 16 on the game clock. In that moment, the 6-foot-10 center who, in fairness, was a 33.5% career shooter from beyond the arc, launched the ball at the hoop…and banked it in.
“It’s tough to lose like that,” McNamara told the Post-Standard after the game. “I kind of wish he had just swished it.”
The feeling was mutual for those of us watching back in Syracuse, too. We were left dumbfounded. Had we really just lost to lowly Rutgers, on a banked in three pointer by a 6-foot-10 dude who hadn’t attempted a three all night? Of course, looking back at the box score, I’d all but forgotten that Syracuse had hit just 10-of-22 free throw attempts, a stat that seems strangely familiar these days.
To this day, it remains one of the most head-scratchingly strange Syracuse losses in the minds of any Orange fan who watched the game. Anchorman hadn’t come out yet, but looking back I kind of felt like Ron Burgundy in that moment: “How’d he do that? I’m not even mad, that’s amazing.”
Like I said, the sting from that loss would wear off quickly, as the Orange went on to knock off Pitt three days later on Saturday night in the Dome, followed by wins over Georgetown and West Virginia. UConn handed the Orange their fourth loss of the season on February 10, but Syracuse wouldn’t lose again until a showdown with the Huskies in the Big East Tournament, in another game I remember all too well, since I was on spring break in Jamaica, and about 50 Orange fans gathered in a tiny bar on the beach to watch UConn dominate Syracuse for a second time.
Of course, that fifth loss would wind up being the last of the season, despite things looking incredibly dicey in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as Syracuse found itself trailing by 17 against Oklahoma State before Billy Edelin took control and led the team to victory. I was lucky enough to go to Albany to watch the Orange defeat Auburn and Oklahoma, and then, of course, came the Final Four. We all know how that turned out.
That’s why it’s become pretty easy to block the Herve Lamizana shot out of our heads. It still feels like some bizarre dream, a momentary blip on an otherwise nearly flawless season for the Orange.
(Note: try as I might, I couldn’t find a clip of Lamizana’s bank shot anywhere on YouTube. I suppose that’s probably for the best. Let’s continue pretending it never happened.)