Saturday , Mar , 19 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Orange crush: Vermont’s first tourney win knocks out Syracuse

Worcester, MA (Sports Network) – Germain Mopa Njila and T.J. Sorrentine
drained clutch three-pointers in overtime, and Vermont held on for a thrilling
60-57 upset of Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Njila scored 20 points and Sorrentine had 17 for the 13th-seeded Catamounts
(25-6), who picked up their first Tournament win ever and first victory over a
ranked team since 1950.

“The biggest win in the history of the school, without a doubt,” said Vermont
head coach Tom Brennan, who will retire at the end of the season. “No one
deserves this more that these fellas.”

Conference-champion Vermont is also the first team from America East to win in
the tourney since 1996 when Drexel knocked off Memphis in the first round.

“This is the best feeling in the world,” said senior Vermont guard Alex
Jensen.

The Catamounts will meet fifth-seeded Michigan State in the second round of
the Austin bracket on Sunday, this after the Spartans beat Old Dominion in the
late game.

Senior Hakim Warrick scored 21 with 12 rebounds to lead the fourth-seeded
Orange (27-7), who lost in the first round for the first time since 1999.

Gerry McNamara chipped in 11 points on just 4-of-18 shooting, and he had
desperation three-point attempts miss at the end of regulation and overtime.

It was a different story at the other end of the court, where consecutive
threes from Mopa Njila and Sorrentine turned a two-point Vermont deficit into
a 59-55 lead with 1:10 remaining in overtime.

Sorrentine made his shot from well beyond NBA range, giving the Catamounts
their four-point lead and forcing Syracuse to call a timeout.

“When a shot like that falls for you, you know things are going good,” said
Jensen. “When it hit, we had a good feeling on the bench.”

Josh Pace’s hook shot got the Orange within two points on the ensuing
possession, and after a defensive stop the Big East champions were left with a
chance to tie or take the lead.

But McNamara dribbled the ball off his foot as he crossed midcourt, and a
backcourt violation was called with 15.9 seconds left.

“A lot of disappointment,” said the senior Pace. “I wish we could have played
a lot better. You never want to end like this.”

Martin Klimes then made 1-of-2 free throws to extend the Vermont lead to
60-57.

The final Syracuse play was sloppy, causing McNamara to settle for a rushed
three-point shot. He needed a double-clutch to get it off in a crowd, and the
ball still nearly went in.

All that was left after the missed tip-in attempts was for Vermont to inbound
the ball and lock up its conference’s sixth win in 31 all-time NCAA Tournament
games.

“It’s going to keep getting better and better,” Klimes said. “That’s all we
want right now.”

The Catamounts won despite being outshot 43 percent to 37 percent. They led by
five points as late as the 5:54 mark in regulation before a Syracuse surge
eventually gave the Orange the lead.

Syracuse picked up five quick points when Terrence Roberts stole the inbounds
pass after a McNamara three-pointer and threw down a dunk to make it 41-41.

The teams played back-and-forth over the next several minutes, and Syracuse
took its last lead of regulation on a Warrick dunk that made it 51-49 with
1:13 remaining.

Taylor Coppenrath, who scored 16 points for Vermont, picked up an important
two when his jumper at the other end tied the game.

Warrick was then called for an offensive foul on the ensuing Syracuse
possession after his elbow caught Coppenrath in the face.

But Mopa Njila stepped on the baseline driving to the basket with 3.7 seconds
left, and McNamara’s running three-point shot missed at the buzzer.

Syracuse enjoyed the first half’s largest advantage when Craig Forth’s layup
capped a 9-0 burst to make it 16-10. The Orange lost the lead for a two-minute
stretch near the end of the period, but rebounded for their 23-19 edge at the
break.

The teams combined to make only 16 field goals in the first half, with Vermont
shooting just 7-of-27 (26 percent). Syracuse was 9-of-20 (45 percent).

SYRACUSE VERMONT