An NCAA on-campus record 33,199 people came to the Carrier Dome last Saturday and witnessed eighth-ranked Syracuse's come-from-behind 60--57 win over Notre Dame. According to one, albeit partial, observer, nearly a third of them were there to see 6'2" Orange guard and Scranton, Pa., favorite son Gerry McNamara, which puts the buzz-cut junior between Xavier and Wichita State as a college hoops draw. "I would be willing to bet there will be 10,000 people there from Scranton and the surrounding Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre area," said McNamara's father, Gerry, before the game. "There are a lot of Notre Dame fans in the area, but for this one game they put on the orange shirt and root for Gerry."
Historically that has been a good move. Two years ago, when at least 4,000 Scrantonians made the 130-mile trip to the Dome for the Notre Dame game, McNamara hit a three-pointer with 20 seconds left to give the Orange an 82--80 victory. Last month in South Bend he scored a game-high 22 points, including a long three-pointer with just over a minute remaining and the shot clock winding down to seal a 70--61 win. But at the outset of Saturday's game it appeared that McNamara's Band--as his orange-clad following is known--would head back home unfulfilled. In an ugly first half for both teams, McNamara, a junior, missed all five of his three-point attempts and scored just four points. Despite two quick threes by McNamara coming out of the locker room, Syracuse fell behind by as much as 11 before rallying. Down five with 4:32 remaining, McNamara finally gave his fans the game-changing performance they came to see. He tied the score on a three-pointer and two free throws, then calmly hit another seven straight foul shots--including the Orange's last four points--down the stretch, even as the surround-sound chants of "Gerry! Gerry!" got so loud that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim had to stand up and motion for quiet.
After the game McNamara, who scored 18 of his game-high 22 points in the second half, said, "The excitement tonight was unlike anything I've ever been a part of."
About 75 friends and family members waited inside the Dome to congratulate McNamara, but many of the rest of the 10,000 headed to nearby watering holes to celebrate. Bill Clark, the president of Scranton-based Cookies Travelers, one of several travel agencies that commandeered 50 buses to ferry McNamara's fans to the game, had to shout into his phone to be heard above the din of a jammed hotel bar. "I can't tell you how excited we are right now," he said, unnecessarily. "Gerry came through at the end, like we knew he would. He always finds a way to win." -- Kelli Anderson