Smith agreed. " Syracuse is just like us. The only difference in our abilities is emotion—whether our heads are in it or not." Before the Panthers left for Syracuse, someone, taking no chances, wrote on the chalkboard in the Pitt field house locker room: PACK YOUR SNEAKERS.
But the Panthers were the tougher team Sunday, taking their cue from Evans. While rarely abandoning his aggressive man-to-man defense, he left Lane in the game with four fouls over the final 13:48. As they say in Annapolis, "Damn the foul trouble, full speed ahead." When Syracuse ripped off a 13-3 run midway through the second half to make the score 66-64, Evans brought back Smith and freshman point guard Sean Miller—each with four fouls—though more than nine minutes remained. "It was awful early," Evans said, "but the kids needed to realize that if we weren't going to do it then, we weren't going to do it."
It was as if Evans had dared his team to face down the officials, the very Big East zebras who allegedly won't cut the new coach on the block some slack. Lane clearly relished the two charges he drew while saddled with foul trouble and asked, "Do I get the Academy Award?" Sure. "And Jerome Lane would like to thank Sean Miller...." Before the game, Lane specifically asked Miller to look for him. Miller obliged. With a minute left and Pitt leading by two, Miller called a high-post clear out, leaving Lane free for a foray to the hole past Syracuse's Derek Brower. "I'm not taking nothing away from Brower," Lane said later, "but no big man in the country can guard me on the top. Period."
Smith's moment was yet to come. After Earl Duncan sank a three-pointer to bring the Orange to within one point, Syracuse fouled another Pitt freshman, guard Jason Matthews, with 19 seconds left. His one-and-one shot kicked straight off the back rim, whereupon Smith stuck his left arm up to spear the ball and was fouled. After Orange center Rony Seikaly said to him, "No way you'll make 'em," Smith swished both free throws.
With the Big East title in hand, the Panthers are thinking bigger. Lane has said that he'll go pro if Pitt wins the national championship. "I like that tradeoff," says Evans. Yet if Lane sticks around for his senior season, he'll have on his side four extraordinary sophomores—Miller, Martin, Matthews and guard Darelle Porter—plus Proposition 48 sitout Brian Shorter, a forward. Once more, he will have a Pitt sports publicity machine primed to flog him as Player of the Year. This is the office, you'll recall, that in 1957 tried to pose All-America candidate Don Hennon with Pitt faculty member Jonas Salk. The billing: THE WORLD'S TWO GREATEST SHOTMAKERS.
Salk, considering himself above such vulgar hype, demurred. But with Lane the possibilities are limitless. How about the Pitt Bull Terror? The Akron Rubber Company? The Square Bear of Snare? Take your time: ' Rome wasn't billed in a day. Of course, the final arbiter of what to call Jerome Lane will be Jerome Lane. Period.