NEW ORLEANS -- There's a lot more to Carmelo Anthony's game than the raw numbers on the Syracuse side of the box score.
The freshman with NBA talent had 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists Monday night in the 81-78 victory over Kansas that gave the Orangemen their first national championship.
But coach Jim Boeheim said Anthony's contribution went beyond that.
"I thought the key is that Carmelo is hard to guard," Boeheim said. "He got (Keith) Langford in foul trouble. Everyone who's played him gets in foul trouble. There's no way to guard him unless you do"
Langford, who was hurting Syracuse on offense, eventually fouled out of the game, leaving Kansas with one less option as the game wound down.
Playing with what seemed to be a permanent smile on his face -- even while pawing at his aching back -- Anthony's performance helped him earn the honor of Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four.
He got banged up a bit, but that was nothing new, he said.
"I paid a physical toll the whole tournament," he said. "The whole season, everybody's been beating me up. Coach told me to tough it up."
That was easy for him to do. He is a tough kid from the hard streets of Baltimore, a neighborhood he calls "The Pharmacy" because of all the drugs. His mother was determined that he go to college and if this was a one-year stopover on the road to the NBA, Anthony stamped it as a season Syracuse would never forget.
"I enjoyed every moment," he said. "I had a fun year on and off the court. I don't regret coming to college."
|Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony cuts down Kansas and the net Monday night.(AP)|
"All my hard work, everything I did in the gym from preseason, all of it just paid off tonight," he said.
He was instrumental in delivering the victory.
When Kansas sliced what had been an 18-point deficit down to three, Anthony nailed a crucial 3-pointer that settled things down and helped the Orangemen rebuild the lead to 10 points.
In the final minutes with the game in the balance, he became a 6-foot-8 point guard, trusted to bring the ball down the court.
Anthony had seven assists in the first half, a career best for the player widely recognized as the best freshman in the country. And if he decides to turn pro now, he almost certainly would be a top-three pick in the NBA Draft, perhaps even challenging high school hotshot LeBron James for the No. 1 slot.
This was not exactly the way Boeheim thought the kid with the headband and braided hairstyle would work out.
"He wasn't a top 40 player when I recruited him," Boeheim said. "He was 170 pounds."
But Anthony showed up on campus at a hefty 220 pounds and became an impact player immediately.
Boeheim plugged him into the starting lineup and Anthony responded. His first basket of the season was a spectacular dunk against Memphis in the season opener and he ran off 15 straight points in that game. Things only got better after that.
Anthony averaged 22 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and he was the mainstay of the Orange offense. Even when he didn't score, he was a factor. In the first half of the round of 16 game against Auburn, he was scoreless but found his teammates often enough for Syracuse to build a 10-point lead. Then he scored 18 points in the second half and finished as the game's high scorer anyway.
When he finished off Oklahoma in the East Regional championship, he was excited about going to the Final Four.
"This is my first Final Four," he said. "I hope it's not my last."
Boeheim, well aware of all the NBA talk, quickly endorsed that idea.
In the national semifinals against Texas, he scored 11 straight points and finished with a career-high 33. That set the stage for the championship game.
When it was over, Anthony was jubilant.
"I've never had a feeling like this," he said. "This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life."
Asked what he thought it meant to Boeheim to win a national championship in his third try after 27 years on the job, Anthony said, "I know he's happy. Tonight, he's probably the happiest man on Earth."
And if he puts off the NBA for another year, the coach will be even happier.
The Associated Press News Service
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