NEW ORLEANS -- Melo was hurting. G-mac was tiring. And, the Kansas tide was swelling.
Three sure signs Monday night that as the second half wore on during the national championship game, the Cuse was eventually going to relinquish its 11-point halftime lead, once, and for all.
Then, something quite fascinating happened. Those other three guys in Orange that play alongside Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara at any give time materialized in the moments that mattered most.
On most teams, these other guys are known as teammates. Up until last night, Cuse's "other guys" were more like ghosts -- all but made invisible by Syracuse's two star freshmen. But in the second half, the ghosts stepped out of the shadows to haunt the Jayhawks.
The Jayhawks pressed, trapped and gunned their way to within three on five occasions. The ghosts never let them get closer. The ghosts saved the day.
Hakim Warrick: The soph forward is the Chris Wilcox of this NCAA Tournament, the phenomenally talented role player who could hit a future lottery after his star postseason turn.
He didn't control the boards or the Jayhawks big men like Jim Boeheim wanted, but he broke off two nifty low-post twirly moves (go ahead, youdescribe 'em) for easy buckets, and there was that play at the end of the game that was kinda important in the grand scheme of things.
Craig Forth: Boeheim's grand strategy for slowing down Kansas' two big men in the second half: Hack 'em til they squeal. The soph center was the lead hack, sticking his paw in the face of Nick Collison and Jeff Graves and any other Jayhawk mushing in the lane.
The great bonus was, he didn't just hack flesh. He hacked ball, too, returning three shots to sender. He also put back three buckets. It was a worthy 24-minute effort, which came to an end, to Boeheim's delight, when the refs whistled him for playing human pinball with Graves in the blocks.
"I loved the way Craig plays," said backup Cuse center Jeremy McNeil. "He was fouling, playing physical, he wasn't letting going to give them anything easy."
Josh Pace: Have you ever seen this guy shoot? His stroke is one Bootsy Collins bass lick short of being funky -- it's all herky-jerky, very uncomfortable to watch.
But there is beauty in the way the backup guard played last night in his 21 minutes -- getting after the bigs in the lane with dribble-drives (he scored eight points) when Kansas started putting the clamps on Melo and G-mac. And he helped Syracuse not get totally waxed on the glass.
"Josh Pace was just unbelievable," said Boeheim.
Boeheim appreciates his effort better than most, because he knows how deep in the hole his sophomore was earlier this season, resigned to junk minutes by his poor shooting and the emergence of McNamara, and then the re-emergence of frosh guard Billy Edelin after a 12-game NCAA suspension. But this tourney, Pace has been a concentrated jolt of instant O.
"I told the team that he is almost the MVP of this tournament for us," said Boeheim. "I did not play him a minute in three straight games this year. Ninety percent of good players would either leave right then, given up or go scream."
Josh, instead, put the scream into Kansas.
Billy Edelin: Forget about his 10 points, and his solid play running the point (which freed G-mac up to light up the first half). With about six minutes left, and KU down eight, Keith Langford collided with Kirk Hinrich at the top of the key. Langford coughed up the rock, Edelin cleaned it up, then ran the length of the court, where Langford was forced to hack him (that is, if you can actually hack someone with both hands straight in the air). That was Langford fifth foul, a huge blow, since he was the one guy with a game tailor-made to tear apart Cuse's Zone. He was also the one assigned to stick Melo.
"After Keith went out, we were really scrambling," said Roy Williams after the game, his face drained, eyes swollen.
It looked like he had seen a ghost.
Scott Burton is an editor at ESPN The Magazine