NEW YORK – Sitting next to his sons, Jim Boeheim did not hesitate when asked to evaluate the first losing season in his 46 years as head coach at Syracuse.
“It’s the best season I’ve ever had,” the 77-year-old said Thursday after his team was eliminated by Duke in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. “I think that says enough.”
Barring some kind of highly unexpected postseason invitation, Syracuse finished 16-17. The Orange struggled to close games all season, and again against Duke they faltered late, getting outscored 10-0 in the final 3:30.
Still, Boeheim got to coach both of his sons, Jimmy and Buddy, this season and at this point in his Hall of Fame career no result was going to make that any less satisfying.
“Sometimes you don’t have to say a lot,” Jim Boeheim said.
The ending was only bitter for the coach because Buddy Boeheim, the ACC's leading scorer, had to watch from the bench as his big brother did everything he could to upset No. 7 Duke.
Buddy Boeheim was suspended by the ACC on Wednesday after he punched Florida State's Wyatt Wilkes in the stomach.
Buddy attended the postgame news conference with his brother and his father. He apologized again for losing his cool, for not setting a good example for kids who look up to him and for not being able to help is team.
“It was just an honest mistake on my part,” Buddy Boeheim said. “I have to live with that, own up to that and I’m not here to argue whether or not I should have played or if I should have got suspended.”
His father was not quite ready to move on.
Jim Boeheim conceded a flagrant 2 could have been called on Buddy that would have resulted in an ejection Wednesday. The Orange were already up by 18 about midway through the first half with Buddy having scored eight points. They went on to win 96-57.
The officials missed the punch altogether. No foul was called and there was no video review, even though Wilkes went down to the floor for a moment.
“If it had been handled properly, if they would have looked at the video — they’ve looked at the video every single time this year — the kid was laying on the floor. Wyatt was laying on the floor. And they’re going to punish those guys (the officials)? No, they’re not punishing those guys. They’re punishing this guy right here because they didn’t do their job,” Jim Boeheim said.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton tried to diffuse the situation when asked about the punch after the game, praising Buddy Boeheim's character.
Still, Jim Boeheim felt Buddy was hit with the maximum penalty: suspended for a postseason game when there was no guarantee he would get to play again.
“I’ve seen people tackle people, knock them into the stands, and get a one-game suspension. So he got the maximum for this,” Jim Boeheim said.
A senior, Buddy Boeheim's college career exceeded even his father's expectations. He became “Buddy Buckets” and his sharp shooting led Syracuse to a surprising Sweet 16 run last season.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. It’s been unbelievable. And I’d do anything to wear this uniform ... I truly gave it everything I had every day,” Buddy Boeheim said, choking up at the end.
Jimmy Boeheim spent his first four years in college at Cornell, becoming one of the best players in the Ivy League before transferring as a graduate student to Syracuse this season.
He proved a capable ACC player, too, and his final college game might have been the best of his career.
Jimmy Boeheim scored a season-high 28 points, going 6 for 9 from 3-point range with seven rebounds while playing all 40 minutes against Duke.
“I wanted to do everything I could to get him one more (game),” Jimmy said about Buddy.
The Boeheim boys grew up around their father's program, wiping the floors and dreaming of one day following some of the great players they watched at the Carrier Dome.
“I know the standard that comes with it. Obviously, we didn’t live up to that this year," Jimmy Boeheim said.
Buddy Boeheim said: “Not the season we wanted. It’s obviously going to hurt forever. But besides that there are so many good things that I got out of this season. Especially this season playing with my big brother, who helped me get here; pushed me to get better every day.”
Jim Boeheim said it was never a given his sons would be good enough to play in his program, even Buddy, the more highly recruited of the two.
“But they worked and made themselves into really, really good basketball players,” Jim Boeheim said. “They were called Division II and III players by the social media people in Syracuse. I think we’ve dispelled that part. So I’m really proud of how they got here. Not that they’re good, but how they got here.”
The Boeheim boys will move on now.
As for Dad, who ranks second in career victories (998) in NCAA Division I men's basketball behind retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (1,197), he is not done.
“We’ll miss you guys,” Jim Boeheim said. “These guys I’m going to miss a lot. You won’t see them, but unfortunately you’ll see me next year.”
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