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Syracuse run hits a dead end Texas A&M holds McNamara to two

Seems Gerry McNamara and Syracuse University wolfed down all their juice in the Big East Tournament, and didn't leave enough for the NCAAs.

The fifth-seeded Orange navigated a transition from Cinderella back to upset victim on Thursday after being chilled by 12th-seeded Texas A&M, 66-58, at Veterans Memorial Arena.

The Aggies, a questionable NCAA selection because of their easy non-league schedule, move on to play No. 4 seed LSU (24-8) on Saturday.

Thursday's debacle was yet another early-round disappointment for Syracuse under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. Put this one right alongside the second-round loss to Rhode Island in 1988, the 1991 clunker to Richmond and last year's first-round stinker against Vermont. And like last season, this loss was unexpected.

Just as unforeseen was the no-show by senior guard McNamara -- who scored just two points on 0-for-6 shooting from the floor and 0 for 5 from three-point range in his final game with the Orange. McNamara, who played only 23 minutes on Thursday, was apparently not pleased he wasn't on the floor in the last four minutes with the game still in doubt.

McNamara said he wasn't hindered by an injury and when asked to comment on his performance the senior guard said mockingly, "I feel great about it. I feel great. It's my last game and we lost probably because of me. It's fantastic."

When Boeheim was asked why the Big East Tournament MVP wasn't on the floor the coach said, "That's for me to know." Boeheim later said, "Gerry couldn't make plays tonight. If anything, I played him too much."

No one in the country had more momentum coming into the NCAAs than Syracuse, a chic pick to slip into the Final Four for the fourth time in Boeheim's career. Somehow, Syracuse followed four stunning victories last week in Madison Square Garden with one of vacillating effort against Texas A&M (22-8).

The Orange connected on just 4 of 19 from long range and shot 39.2 percent overall. Texas A&M saw enough Syracuse highlights last week to know what makes the Orange purr so the Aggies trapped McNamara and the guards whenever they got close to the three-point line, making it difficult to create off the dribble and find open teammates.

When McNamara is ordinary, Syracuse becomes a pedestrian team.

Syracuse appeared to be fading with 12:31 left after a three-pointer by Chris Walker gave the Aggies a 44-33 lead. But the Orange got back into the game with an 8-1 run to close the gap to 45-41 after back-to-back baskets by Eric Devendorf. Acie Law ended the run with a putback, then added two free throws moments later to push the lead to 49-41.

But baskets by Terrence Roberts and Josh Wright, and several missed opportunities by Texas A&M, closed the gap to 49-45 with 3:25 left. After an Orange timeout, Darryl Watkins' shot rimmed out and Roberts was called for a foul with three minutes left. Dominique Kirk made both free throws to push the lead to 51-45.

Syracuse pulled within 51-48 on a three-pointer by Devendorf with 2:41 left but the Aggies raced right back at Syracuse with a layup by Law. Devendorf shot an airball on a three-point attempt and Law responded again with a running left-hander that gave the Aggies a 55-48 lead with just over two minutes left.

After a Syracuse timeout, Demetris Nichols drained a trey from the right wing with 1:46 left and the lead was back down to 55-51. The Orange elected to press and were beaten for another layup by Law. Another Nichols three rimmed in and out and the Orange fouled Law, who made both free throws for a 59-51 lead.

That was enough to ram Syracuse (23-12) out of the tournament.

"It's the NCAA Tournament so it's now or never," said Law, who scored a game-high 23 points and added five assists in 38 minutes. "And we don't want to leave."

Roberts led the Orange with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Wright added 12 off the bench.

The Big East placed a record eight teams in the tournament, but went 0-3 on the first day, with losses by the Orange, Seton Hall and Marquette.

e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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