Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dolphins' Day with Upset of Syracuse

Tuesday was election night, but there was a certain college basketball coach happier about a certain result than any politician anywhere.

That would be Steve Evans, the head coach of Division II Le Moyne, a small school located in a suburb of Syracuse that exists in the considerable sporting shadow of Division I powerhouse Syracuse University.

But, for a night, Le Moyne got its moment in the sun in a preseason exhibition game with the Orangemen.

Final score: Le Moyne 82, Syracuse 79.

Those of you who don't know that by now haven't been watching ESPN, which gave the outcome prominent national mention Tuesday night.

What does all that have to do with the MAAC?

Evans was formerly an assistant coach at Siena for three seasons (1996-97, '97-98, '98-99), the last two of those under Paul Hewitt, now the head coach at Georgia Tech.

One of Evans' Le Moyne assistants, Gallagher Driscoll, served two seasons as an assistant coach at Loyola under that school's former coach Scott Hicks.

Call it just an exhibition game result, but those who follow central New York basketball know when the two programs meet it's much more than that, particularly for "little" Le Moyne.

Call it a little brother vs. big brother match-up. The big brother always wins. Although no records are kept for exhibition games, it's universally accepted that Le Moyne has never even been competitive in a number of exhibition contests against Syracuse, and has an 0-6 record in regular-season match-ups, including an 85-51 loss at the beginning of last season.

This time, though, little brother finally won.

Significance? Le Moyne is picked fourth in its own 16-member Northeast 10 Conference of Division II teams ("people don't realize how ridiculously strong the league is," said Evans). Syracuse is six seasons removed from the Division I national championship.

Here's how Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post Standard newspaper described the significance:
"Now, the LeMoyne Dolphins will the join Joe Namath’s New York Jets, Buster Douglas and Chaminade in upset lore."

In truth, the result is even more unlikely, more unexpected than any of those.

"For us to win ... it's bigger than a basketball game," said Evans. "There was no other story. It is just awesome for our school to get that kind of exposure. There's no amount of money we could spend that could bring the type of exposure this has brought to our school."

Evans said he knows the meetings with Syracuse haven't done much for his team in the past.

"We like to throw the ball inside, and they're just so big inside," said Evans.

Which means the 34-point loss in last year's meeting is the norm for the Dolphins.

"The best thing about the game every year is that we get a check (from Syracuse) for playing the game (at the Carrier Dome)," said Evans. "Every year I ask our guys if they want to play, and they do. They love it. This year I've got a team of upperclassmen who have been a lot of close games and who love to compete and know how to win."

The knew how Tuesday. The proverbial slingshots were never more accurate.

For 39 minutes and 50 seconds, Evans said, his team played as well as it ever has.

And, then, down a point and in possession, Evans called a play.

"It was a man-to-man play, and Syracuse switched to a zone," Evans said. "The play never works against a zone. What we wound up with was Chris Johnson (a sophomore guard) taking a shot from 24 feet out."

This, though, was the "Day of the Dolphin." The shot went in, giving Le Moyne an 81-79 lead with 10 seconds left. Syracuse then missed a shot to tie it, and the Dolphins added a free throw for the final score.

Evans' phone has been ringing off the hook ever since. Among those he has taken have come from mentors, including USC coach Kevin O'Neill (Evans was an assistant under O'Neill at Northwestern before coming to Siena), Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren, an assistant with Evans on Hewitt's staff at Siena; and, of course, Hewitt.

"I was told that Hewitt was at someone's house when the result was reported on ESPN, and he started telling people `Look at what my boy just did.' " said Evans. "And, then, he called me a little later, too."

Evans said there's almost nothing he can do to prepare his team for Syracuse.

"We really did almost nothing this time, except show our kids just one clip from last year's game," said Evans. "There was a play where (former Syracuse guard) Johnny Flynn drew a charge and went to the floor. Then, two of our guys reached down to help him up.

"I showed that clip, and said if anyone knocked down a Syracuse player and, then, helped him up this time that I'd pull their scholarships. You can't go into the Dome taking their pictures on your cell phones and, then, expect to do well against them."

But a level of respect in the other direction, where there was next to none before, surely exists now.

"Maybe we'll tell them (Syracuse) that they have to come to our place if they want to play us next year," said Evans, flashing his good sense of humor. "I'll make it a `guarantee game' for them. This time, we'll write them the check to come play us."

The game, Evans said, always gets Le Moyne's name out in the local media., but not necessarily in a positive sense.

"We played in our league's championship game last season, but no one interviewed me before the game," said Evans. "But, the day before this year's exhibition with Syracuse, there's a cartoon of a Syracuse player about to take a bite out of a hot dog roll with a Dolphin in it."

Finally, the publicity carries brings something considerably more positive for Evans' program.

The on-court ramifications? Who knows for sure.

"In terms of our regular season, we've done nothing in our minds," said Evans. "But, we've got a great memory."


James said...

Will there be a blog about Niagara featured on ESPN? Or is this strictly a Siena blog? When I go through it is mostly highlighting Siena athletics, this is a MAAC blog.

Now, I would like to state that I usually do enjoy reading your blogs, but I have had this issue last year as well and it is not fair to all teams. I think there should be more balance. Or an attempt to at least. To on a good note though, keep up the good work and keep blogging.

Steve Amedio said...


I don't make a habit of responding to comments (and, I might never do it again), but thought yours deserved one...

I've made 153 postings on the MAAC blog since its start. Niagara has been either featured, or given some mention, in 36 of those.
That's the 2nd highest total for any MAAC program.

Siena is the only program to have gotten more mentions.

Based on Siena's success in recent years, that's natural since Siena provided much more to write about, particularly last March.

Yes, this is a "MAAC" blog. But, yes, teams with the most success draw the most attention.

It's why these teams, in order, have been subjects of the most posts to date:

1) Siena
2) Niagara
3) Rider
(Which happened to be last season's order of finish)

1) Marist
2) Canisius
3) Fairfield
(Again, last year's order of finish)

Both the Siena men and the Marist women have more blog postings appearances than other programs, but that's primarily because each was playing last season long after other MAAC teams were finished.

As long as this blog exists, I'll specifically find ways to write about every program. But, the better teams will always, by nature of interest, wind up being written about more often.

Thanks for your comments, and your interest. Hope you'll keep reading.

And, I will be posting next week about Niagara's upcoming ESPN appearance.

Dolphin Fan said...

That was a great article about Le Moyne College. Thank you.