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Controversial Devendorf just wants to help Syracuse keep winning

MIAMI -- Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf is pretty sure he knows how you feel about him.

"They probably think I'm an a-hole," the senior from Bay City, Mich., said Sunday. "I know they do. I know everybody thinks I'm an a-hole."

Fresh off scoring a game-high 21 points -- including a pair of critical three-pointers -- to help the Orange into the Sweet 16 with a 78-67 win against Arizona State, Devendorf smiled and laughed easily. In conversation, he doesn't come off as the thug he's painted to be.

Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn considers Devendorf something else. The Orange's MVP. "Without Eric on this team, we wouldn't have made the NCAA tournament," Flynn said. "We probably wouldn't have made the NIT without him on this team."

Some of the hatred for Devendorf stems from his style. He's a heavily inked firebrand who runs his mouth and exposes every raw emotion on the court. Most of the more recent hatred stems from the incident that nearly ended Devendorf's college career. On Halloween night, Devendorf was accused of striking Syracuse student Kimberly Smith in the jaw during argument that ensued after someone in a group of people -- of which Devendorf was a member -- kicked Smith's car. Devendorf admitted to pushing Smith away from him, but he has denied hitting her.

A five-member student judicial board found Devendorf responsible for violating three codes of conduct, but not for causing any physical harm. But because Devendorf was on probation for a prior incident, the board recommended he be suspended for the remainder of the academic year. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim allowed Devendorf to play during his appeal, throwing more fuel on the fire. On Dec. 19, the University Appeals Board amended the penalty. Devendorf would have to perform 40 hours of community service and apply for reinstatement to the university for the spring semester. In total, the suspension cost him games against Memphis and Coppin State.

Without Devendorf, the Orange won at Memphis on Dec. 20. On Christmas Day, Devendorf completed part of his community service by washing dishes at a Syracuse homeless shelter.

While the Appeals Board deliberated, Devendorf wondered if he'd ever play for Syracuse again. "It definitely felt like it was over," Devendorf said Sunday. "It was a moment where I had a lot of time to think to myself. I had to correct a lot of things in my life. I've definitely learned from that."

Devendorf said he must be careful who he associates with, and he said he must make smarter decisions. He wants to set a better example, he said, for his nine-month-old daughter, Madelyn, who "just started walking a little bit."

The player who replaced Devendorf in the lineup during the suspension was junior Andy Rautins. Both guards would prove crucial Sunday. After Syracuse controlled for the first 25 minutes, the Sun Devils began chipping away at the Orange's lead. When a Ty Abbot three-pointer cut Syracuse's edge to four with 6:35 remaining, the Orange knew they needed a shot. The first came from Rautins, who made a three-pointer 18 seconds later. Devendorf followed with a pair of threes, and suddenly Syracuse led by 11 again. "They knocked down big shots," Boeheim said. "That was the difference."

The road doesn't get any easier for the Orange. They face second-seeded Oklahoma on Friday in a South Region semifinal. If they win, it's probably onto top-seeded North Carolina. The added exposure probably means more venom aimed at Devendorf, who laughed Sunday when someone mentioned a recent Google search of his name. "Probably a lot of 'I hate Eric Devendorf,' right?" he asked. Devendorf said he doesn't take it personally.

"The world is messed up as it is already," he said. "They want to hate somebody that plays basketball? There's a lot of other problems going on in the world. But at the end of the day, man, that doesn't matter to me. I've got a lot of other things on my mind besides that."

Like making it home for the Final Four. Devendorf grew up about an hour from Detroit. During the offseason, he lives with his former AAU coach only about 15 minutes from Ford Field. And if the Orange can run next week's gauntlet and make it to the Motor City, the most hated man in college basketball might feel a little love.

"I don't even know what type of feeling that would be. I've just got to go there and make it happen," Devendorf said. "Especially back home -- in front of the home crowd. That would be amazing. I don't even know how to explain it. Hopefully I'll tell you April 6."