Conventional wisdom, common sense and Miami coach Jim Larranaga all agreed that, going in, this would be like a home game for Syracuse. The Orange always did pour fans and electricity into Madison Square Garden during the Big East Tournament, so it was natural to assume Syracuse would hold court in the first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in Brooklyn.
Yet Syracuse wasn’t around to watch the ground being cleared for Barclays Center, the way Miami center Kamari Murphy was. No one among the Orange had the same local ties as Murphy, who went to Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School. Nobody on Syracuse had the kind of day Murphy did, either. He went above and beyond his usual performances as Miami claimed Brooklyn as its turf and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 62-57 win.
“It’s nice. I love this place. It’s a great arena,” Murphy, a redshirt senior transfer from Oklahoma State, said after he scored a season-high and team-high 16 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and thrilled a lot of people who came out specifically to watch him. “Everybody: My high school coaches, mom, dad, brothers. Everybody.”
They saw Miami (21-10) withstand the roar and “Let’s Go Orange!” chant after Syracuse took its only lead of the second half, 41-40, with 12:18 to go. They saw DJ Vasiljevic, a freshman from Australia make two long three-pointers (he also had some local inspiration, playing beneath the retired Nets jersey of his idol Drazen Petrovic). They never saw Syracuse catch up. Instead they saw a sequence in which Syracuse’s Tyus Battle missed a dunk, then Murphy finished a fast break by making a dunk five seconds later for a 57-52 lead.
Location, location, location was all in Murphy’s favor. “Maybe it gave me a little bit more of a boost, but not much. I just didn’t want to lose,” he said. “I come to play the same every game, but I’m just happy they got to see it live.”
The Hurricanes have the tenacity Larranaga developed while growing up in the Bronx. They will need it when they face top-seeded North Carolina Thursday in a tournament that might have lost some buzz without Syracuse (18-14).
“It’s a little different. The Garden is different,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “Madison Square Garden made the Big East Conference . . . and I’m saying that because I don’t give a [expletive].”
Still, the man nearing the end of a legendary career fully endorsed the Brooklyn site, adding, “I just think New York City is a great venue for our tournament. I’m not going to be around much longer to care about it, but I think that’s where the value is. Obviously, we get some fans here. It doesn’t matter in terms of who wins.”