Syracuse was not in good shape coming into the 2006 Big East tournament. They dropped three consecutive games, one of which included a beat down from DePaul as Syracuse lost by a record margin. What was to come, was no one's guess, but every Syracuse fans wish.
Gerry McNamara went on a historic four-game stretch for Syracuse Basketball, leading the Orange to a Big East Tournament Championship.
In the opening game vs Cincinnati, Syracuse trailed 73-71 with just six seconds to go. McNamara caught the inbounds pass behind the half-court line, took three dribbles up the floor before wrapping the ball behind his back. He took a few extra dribbles to use the high-screen and split the double team as he launched a floater from three-point-land. Cincinnati defender Eric Hciks rose from the foul-line to contest the shot, but the ball had already made up its mind. Big-game-Gerry had done it once again, this time around advancing Syracuse to a matchup vs the number one team in the nation, and he was not even close to being done.
McNamara proved his knack for clutch performances yet again in the ensuing game vs the UConn Huskies, featuring four future first-round NBA picks. Syracuse had already lost twice to the Huskies in the regular season. This one would play out a little differently, however.
McNamara was able to get his teammates involved in the first half, dishing out 10 assists and giving Syracuse a comfortable 14-point edge. The Huskies, like any resilient number one team, would come back on a run and take the lead, 74-71. With just:11 seconds to play, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called for a time-out. Everyone in the garden knew who the ball was going to on the ensuing play.
Facing full-court pressure from the Huskies, Eric Devendorf caught the inbounds and found McNamara who had some space to work with. He rushed up the court, and from nearly the same spot he ended Cincinattis hopes to win the Big East tournament, he rose and hit a pull up three from deep. The game was tied with five ticks to go.
Syracuse would go on to prevail in overtime behind McNamara's near-record for a Big East tournament 13 assists, upsetting Connecticut to advance.
McNamara had been dealing with a groin injury for the majority of the 2006 season. An injury that almost kept history from happening in the garden. Though he was able to rest throughout the regular season, the Big East tournament did not allow for the time to rest in-between games with four consecutive nights of basketball. McNamara did not take a game off, or the time to let his injury heal. Instead, he went on to close-out a historic run he was on in New York City.
In the third straight game in that many nights, McNamara only played 15 minutes in the first half due to the critically strained groin, going scoreless. Syracuse would need his heroics once again if they had any chance for a comeback in the second half, down 15 points. McNamara came out on fumes, hitting five three-pointers and bringing the Orange back. With:45 seconds to play, Syracuse was down just one.
Down the stretch, Syracuse's defense was able to force a crucial turnover and the ball found McNamara, once again. With time dwindling, a speedy McNamara led the fast-break and found a slashing Devendorf for a game-winning lay-up. Syracuse had gutted out three straight games on consecutive nights, now just one shy of capturing the tournament title.
Much like the contest against the Huskies, Syracuse led the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Big East tournament finals for the majority of the game, but it would not last. Pitt would prove to be a tough-out, coming back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead 48-47 mid-way through the second half.
Syracuse would go on to erase the deficit behind a signature three from the hobbled McNamara, who made 16 total threes in just four games at Madison Square Garden. The lead would never relinquish, as Syracuse went on to be victors of the tournament, behind one of the most fearless performances in the history of the series.
McNamara was named tournament MVP as he averaged a near double-double in the four wins, despite missing time due to the severe groin injury.
The tournament proved to be historic not just for McNamara, but the Orange as a squad. The win would mark the first time a Big East team won four games in a row to capture the conference.
As for McNamara, he cemented his legacy as one of the best big shot takers and big shot makers in college basketball history.