Date: February 12, 1980
Location: Syracuse, New York/Canada
Closest Landmark: Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison
Throngs of unattractive, uneducated and unbearably annoying Syracuse fans poured into Manley Field House on a cold winter night. It was a monumental occasion for the Cuse faithful; you see this was the very last home game ever to be played at this special arena. And it was on this court that their beloved Orangemen had defeated 57 consecutive opponents, which at the time represented the longest home winning streak in the nation. The team was scheduled to move to the newly constructed Carrier Dome the following season, and fans gathered at Manley Field House to remember the past, celebrate the present, and toast to the future.
And oh yeah, there was a game that night. The #3 ranked Syracuse Orangemen faced off against the visiting Georgetown Hoyas. This was the inaugural season of the Big East Conference, and the Orangemen sat atop the standings with a 20-1 record, 3-0 against conference opponents. Meanwhile Georgetown came into the game with a 17-5 record, 4-1 in conference play. Both teams were led by young coaches trying to establish themselves and their teams in the newly formed Big East.
The Hoyas were led by John Thompson Jr., a Washington D.C. native who took over the Georgetown program in 1972. Thompson was a former All-American center for Providence College and had a brief stint in the NBA where he was most known for being the backup to the legendary Bill Russell. After the NBA, Thompson returned to D.C. to coach St. Anthony's High School for seven years before being offered the Georgetown head spot. When Thompson took over, Georgetown was coming off of a 3-23 record and had only two NIT appearances and one NCAA Tournament berth in its history. He turned the program around and led the Hoyas to five winning seasons, two NIT appearances and three NCAA Tournament berths in seven short years. And he now faced one of his biggest challenges as a coach against an energized Syracuse team and crowd.
The Orangemen were led by Jim Boeheim, a former Syracuse player, graduate assistant and full-time assistant coach. Boeheim was a walk-on his freshman year and rose to team captain by his senior year. He played professionally with the Scranton Miners for two years and returned to Syracuse to serve as a graduate assistant. He was promoted to a full-time assistant a few years later and rather unglamorously took over the program in 1976 after head coach Roy Danforth departed for Tulane. Boeheim was not the leading candidate for the position but after a long search yielded nothing, he became the default choice. He took over a program that had made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and was National Champion Runner Up in 1975.
Georgetown and Syracuse had met 17 times before, with Orangemen leading the series 11-6. Thompson was 2-0 against Syracuse in his short career, but both wins were at neutral sites. This was Thompson's first visit to the imposing Manley Field House. In the days leading up the game, local papers hypothesized on only the margin of victory for the heavily favored Orangemen, as the concept of anything but a win in the last game at the hallowed home arena was unfathomable. The halftime score validated this notion, as Thompson and his Georgetown team found themselves down by 14 points. Fans celebrated what seemed to be a certain victory. But Georgetown refused to give up and they cut into the Orangemen lead with a 15-5 run late in the second half. After a goaltending call on Syracuse, the score was left tied at 50 with seconds left on the clock. On the next play, Georgetown's Eric "Sleepy" Floyd was fouled after a poor pass by Syracuse. He was sent to the free throw line with 5 seconds left in the game. He sank both free throws and as time expired the stunned and silenced Syracuse crowd looked up to the scoreboard to see an unaccustomed sight. The scoreboard read Georgetown 52, Syracuse 50. Georgetown had done the unimaginable.
In the post game conference John Thompson Jr., fresh off the heels of the incredible victory on the closing night of an arena in which 57 consecutive visitors were defeated, proclaimed the famous statement that to this day still echos across the greater Northern New York region. He boldly declared, "Manley Field House is officially closed."
And with those words, one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball was born.
Cuse on Saturday. Get excited.