During the first half of the championship game, Syracuse relied on the inside game of the 6'9" Coleman, a junior who has moved from power forward to replace Rony Seikaly in the pivot. Although Coleman was able to outplay Mizzou's 7'1" big man, Gary Leonard, Boeheim hopes that 6'10" freshman Rich Manning will develop quickly and allow Coleman to return to forward.
In the second half Thompson and Douglas asserted themselves, and in the overtime they took over. Douglas, a senior, is the best point guard in the country. Thompson not only held Irvin and Indiana's Jay Edwards to single figures, but he also weaved inside to make 21 of 28 shots in the two games.
Syracuse seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Then late in the half, Mizzou's Smith came to life, forward Greg Church found the seams in the Orange's 2-3 zone, freshman Anthony Peeler slowed Douglas's forays, and Syracuse began its suicide march to the foul line. Free throw shooting has become a confounding hallmark for the Orangemen, who entered the game shooting better from the floor (61.6%) than from the line (55.7%). But with Thompson, a career 57% foul shooter, in the game, the Tigers made the mistake of sending Matt Roe (81%) to the line with 35 seconds to go in OT and trailing 81-80. Boeheim couldn't watch as Roe converted both ends of a one-and-one to set up Thompson's clinching play.
The hoopla of the NIT was a worthy backdrop for Owens's coming-out-at-the-Garden party. At 6'9", he provided low-post scoring (15 and 11 points in the two games) and high-post passing (eight assists), and he blended in with the veterans so easily that he missed three of six free throws. Owens had a kind word for everyone, including Peeler, whom he played with on a McDonald's high school All-America team. "He's fitting in very well," said Owens. "What are they, Big Ten or something?"
No, Billy, Missouri's in the Big Eight. But that's O.K. You're just starting to learn. That's what the Big Apple NIT is all about.