'Nova tops 'Cuse, puts damper on McNamara tribute

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- At least Gerry McNamara went out on his
own terms.

With a record Carrier Dome crowd cheering his every move,
McNamara scored a game-high 29 points for Syracuse in his final
regular-season home game but Allan Ray had 28 points to lead No. 4
Villanova to a 92-82 win Sunday.

Randy Foye added 21 points for the Wildcats (24-3, 14-2), who
earned a tie for the conference title with Connecticut and a second
seed in the Big East tournament. It was the 10th loss in 13 games
for the sinking Orange (19-11, 7-9).

"If I was going out with a loss, that's the way I wanted to go
out -- fighting," said McNamara, whose pull-up 3-pointer with 6:35
left in the first half broke the Big East record of 178 career 3s
in league play he shared with former Miami star Steve Edwards.

"It's tough to go out with a loss, but if I'm going to lose my
last game in the dome, it's going to be to a top-five team, and
they're as good as any team in the country," said McNamara, who
has made 130 straight starts, tops in the nation. "I'm happy to
say we stuck with them every step. It came down to the end, and
they just had a little more."

Mike Nardi scored 12 points for Villanova, which made 13 of 31
3-pointers and outrebounded Syracuse 43-35.

"I'm proud of our guys, that our senior class can be called
champions," Jay Wright said after his 100th victory as head coach
at Villanova. "Over a 16-game schedule in this conference, to win
a championship is a great accomplishment. I think we're playing our
best basketball right now."

McNamara, one of the most popular players in Syracuse history,
is the only one with 2,000 career points, 600 career assists and
250 career steals, and he was treated as royalty by the sellout
crowd of 33,633, an NCAA on-campus record.

Before the game, chants of "Gerry! Gerry! Gerry!" reverberated
throughout the Carrier Dome as a video montage of his stellar
career played high above Jim Boeheim Court. "Thanks Gerry, we'll
never forget you" blared over the public-address system as he
accepted a framed No. 3 jersey, blew kisses to the crowd, grabbed
his heart and waved, then cried on his mother Joyce's shoulders.

"In the beginning, I was so drained because I wanted to savor
every moment. I didn't let her go because I didn't want to pick my
head up. I couldn't deal with it," said McNamara, who made five
3-pointers to move his career total to 384, seventh in NCAA
history. "It was emotional the whole game, every step of the way.
Heavy eyes and heavy feet."

The Carrier Dome was sold out in advance of a basketball game
for the first time since the building opened in 1980, a tribute to
the Orange's beloved senior guard. More than 3,000 fans from his
hometown of Scranton, Pa., packed over 60 buses to make the
two-hour trip north.

They didn't get the ending they wanted, but he sure made it

After Ray's three-point play gave Villanova a 58-47 lead with
14:46 left, McNamara and Eric Devendorf, who finished with 19
points, hit 3-pointers to move Syracuse within 62-56 at 11:29 as
the crowd roared, sensing a comeback.

The Orange kept it a two-possession game until Foye and Nardi
hit 3-pointers to boost the Villanova lead to 81-69 with 4:24 left.

Then McNamara scored nine straight points to lead the Orange
back within 83-78 with just under 3 minutes remaining.

"I was hoping. I really was," McNamara said. "To beat
Villanova would be big for us. That's no secret. A call here and
there, a loose ball here and there, a rebound here and there, you
never know. It just didn't work out."

That was the Orange's last threat, and McNamara departed in the
final minute to another deafening cheer and more tears.

"I'm glad coach took me out when he did. I'm not sure how much
longer I could have held it together," McNamara said.

"I had mixed feelings," said Wright, who coached McNamara in
the World University Games last summer. "I wanted it to end nicely
for him, but not at our expense. He had a great game and we got the
win. We wanted to be focused, but there was so much going on. Our
hotel looked like I spent a weekend in Scranton. My sons were
wearing Gerry McNamara jerseys that the Scranton fans gave them."

Syracuse, which was coming off a deflating 108-69 loss at
DePaul, will play Cincinnati on Wednesday in a game with big
implications for the NCAA tournament, even if the winner gets
top-seeded Connecticut in the second round.

"A lot of teams don't have a chance. We still do," McNamara
said. "The loss to DePaul really hurt. We knew that. We thought we
needed a win today. We almost got one, and now we have to go down
to New York and win a couple of games.

"We're going to have to beat some tough teams to do it. We're
just hoping for the best and keeping our heads up."