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Boeheim recalls first NCAA experience as coach

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BUFFALO — Jim Boeheim will coach in his 83rd NCAA Tournament game today against Dayton, the most of any coach in Division I history.

Thirty-seven years ago last Friday, when the bespectacled Boeheim was a nave 33-year-old, second-year head coach of the then Orangemen, he was on the sidelines for his first-ever NCAA Tournament game.

When asked about that game Saturday, the now 69-year-old Hall of Famer said he really couldn’t remember much. Then he proceeded to describe what happened when SU knocked off Tennessee in overtime before losing to Charlotte in the round of 16.

“I think it was Roosevelt Bouie’s freshman year,” Boeheim said after SU sports information director Pete Moore jogged his memory. “It was a good tournament for awhile. We thought we had an easy tournament, and then we had Charlotte. They had a guy named Cornbread Maxwell, and it didn’t turn out so easy. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think that’s what happened.”

Indeed, SU fell by 22 points to then North Carolina-Charlotte in the East Region semifinals, now known as the Sweet 16.

Against Tennessee, a team led by the famous duo of Ernie (Grunfeld) and Bernie (Bernard King), SU squandered a double digit lead, saw the Vols tie the game at the end of regulation, and then pulled away for a 93-88 upset win at Baton Rouge, La.

“That was way before ESPN and all the blogging and Twitter,” Boeheim said. “It was a big deal for us, but a lot of the country was not really interested until the Final Four.”

Since then, a lot has happened. Now coaching in his fifth decade, Boeheim has won the NCAA title game (2003) and lost it twice (1987, 1996). He has beaten prostate cancer, survived an NCAA probation, divorced and remarried, had a court named after him, won two Olympic gold medals as an assistant to Mike Krzyzewski, and been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

And, oh yes, won 948 games, second most in Division I history.

“It’s been a wonderful ride for sure,” Boeheim said. “So many games. So many great players. So many great friends made. That’s why we never take this for granted.”

SANFORD KNOWS ORANGE

One Dayton player is a lot more familiar with Syracuse than the rest of the Flyers.

The redshirt senior guard competed against the Orange five times during his two-year career with Georgetown from 2009-11. SU won three of four in 2009-10, including a win in the Big East Conference Tournament. The teams then split two games the following season.

“To be honest, that was a long time ago,” said Sanford, Dayton’s valuable sixth man. “But I do remember that we didn’t like Syracuse and that every game was a knock-down, drag-out battle.”

Asked what advice Sanford gave to his teammates about facing the Orange, he said, “First of all don’t be intimidated by their size. Don’t let the zone take away from what you do best. And don’t let them get out in transition.”

Sanford hit the winning 10-foot bank shot with 3.8 seconds left to give Dayton its 60-59 second-round win over Ohio State on Thursday. That was the Flyers’ third winning shot in the final seconds this season.

Big East Reunion

With Syracuse, Connecticut and Villanova all advancing to the third round here, it’s like a Big East Conference reunion broke out at the First Niagara Center.

They have all gone their separate ways this season. SU bolted for the Atlantic Coast Conference. UConn is part of the new American Atlantic Conference. And Villanova is a member of the revamped Big East.

For Boeheim, the time for nostalgia is long gone.

“I don’t really think about it (the Big East) anymore because it’s not even close to being what it was,” he said. “I’ve moved on and not looked back. It’s like you don’t ask questions about someone’s ex-wife, do you?”

Villanova’s Jay Wright said he has also looked forward, but can’t help but yearn for the days when great teams coached by Boeheim and UConn’s Jim Calhoun were butting heads with his Wildcats.

“We remember the Big East for its rivalries, its competitiveness and all of the great players,” Wright said. “If you looked back on the history of college basketball the last 30 years, I’d venture to say our conference had more big games and big personalities than any other league. That’s sad to think about it just being put to the side.”

He said it

Boeheim on Dayton assistant coach Allen Griffin, who played at SU from 1998-2001:

“I know some place on him he’s got something orange.”

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