Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
BOSTON — In the end, Ohio State did what the Bernie Fine child molestation scandal, the reports of failed drug tests by players and the loss of Fab Melo could not.
Bring down the Syracuse Orange.
After the Buckeyes ended Syracuse’s season with a 77-70 victory in the East Regional final at TD Garden, Scoop Jardine sobbed as he walked through the hallways toward the interview room, his fellow senior Kris Joseph comforting him by putting his arm around him.
All season long, a defiant Jardine had insisted that the off-the-court scandals and distractions only made Syracuse stronger, only brought the players closer to together.
For all their strength and ability to block out the distractions, they simply could not overcome their own offensive inabilities and were overmatched down the stretch by a very balanced Ohio State team.
“They’ve been thrown a lot of curveballs, knuckle balls, 110-mile an hour fastballs and these guys never wavered,” Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins told SNY.tv in the locker room. “And even when we were down tonight, these guys kept fighting and that’s kind of defined these guys all year.”
Hopkins called the two seniors “great ambassadors of the program” and added: “Those guys are special, special kids.”
The finality of it all hit Jardine and Joseph harder than any scandal ever did.
“The loss hurts, but me not playing with these guys for the rest of my life is going to hurt even more,” Jardine said. “These are like my brothers, and we came up short today, but for the most part I think we had a great season.”
The Orange were unbeaten and No. 1 in the nation for a chunk of the season, even after the Bernie Fine scandal broke and nearly brought head coach Jim Boeheim’s career to a Joe Paterno-like end.
A late-season report by Yahoo! Sports about failed drug tests and the loss of the 7-footer Melo on the eve of the tournament didn’t bring Syracuse down in the first three rounds, but ultimately Melo’s absence caught up with them.
Jared Sullinger, the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, and fellow All-Region teammates Lenzelle Smith Jr. and Deshaun Thomas were simply too strong and too good for the Melo-less Orange, who still haven’t been back to a Final Four since Carmelo Anthony brought them there in 2003.
“It’s tough,” Joseph, the proud, soft-spoken Canadian said. “It’s real tough knowing that my career is over and that I won’t play with these guys again.”
Syracuse will march on and play its final year in the Big East, but it will do so without Jardine, the heart and soul of the team who declined to take a shot at the much-maligned officiating crew led by John Higgins, or at Boeheim for sitting him down much of the stretch of his final college game.
“He hasn’t played in the last seven, eight, 10 minutes of several games this year,” Boeheim said of Scoop. “It’s fairly, absolutely normal.”
Syracuse will march forward without Joseph, a first-team All-Big East Player who went out with one of his worst games of the season by shooting 4-for-11 for 10 points.
And they will likely go on without Dion Waiters, the super-sophomore who appears headed to the first round of the NBA Draft.
“They’re my brothers,” Waiters said of Jardine and Joseph. “I’m going to cherish every moment we have and the’re great guys and I wish them the best in everything they’re doing as far as life and continuing to keep their careers going. The love I got for them is unconditional.”
Syracuse will also lose Melo, who could also be drafted by a franchise hoping he doesn’t blow up weight-wise while being away from the team.
Brandon Triche and Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita and James Southerland will likely return, as will freshman guard Michael Carter-Williams, who figures to play a bigger role next season.
Big man DaJuan Coleman and forward Jerami Grant are coming in, and the Orange still hold out hope of landing Nerlens Noel, the shot-blocking sensation who is down to Syracuse, Kentucky and Georgetown.
But an era ended here tonight, the era of Jardine and Joseph, two proud, stand-up men.
“They know, they know. Michael Carter-Williams knows,” Jardine said of what his legacy might be. “He knows how much I put into this and the things I did throughout my career, how hard I worked to get to a Final Four.
“I came up short but he knows he got a chance to do it and just take advantage of playing at a prestigious school like Syracuse and the stuff we get is great. I think playing at Syracuse for five years was the best time of my life and I don’t know what I’m going to do afterwards.”
And with that his words trailed off and he held back tears.
Jardine and Joseph ended their careers not with a trip to the Final Four but with hugs and tears in the Syracuse locker room.
Two proud warriors going out as best they could manage.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.