From the parking lot: A history of the 2005 UVM-Syracuse game

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bball4In the wake of the men’s basketball team’s March 12 loss, and the subsequent end of their bid for a NCAA tournament title, faculty and a former player looked back at one of the most important moments in UVM athletic history – the 2005 win over the University of Syracuse in the NCAA Division I tournament.

 

Before the shot:

 

 

 

Entering the 2004-2005 season, the University of Vermont men’s basketball team was poised to make another run in the NCAA tournament. The Catamounts had won the America East conference in the two prior seasons, receiving the conference’s automatic bid into the tournament, according to ESPN. Their first two tournament appearances came with no victories, but prepared the experienced team for the 2004-2005 season, who returned their two leading scorers, senior forward Taylor Coppenrath, and senior guard TJ Sorrentine.

TJ Sorrentine (Catamount guard): “Our expectation was to win; from our team, the coaches and our fans. Get to the tournament and win.”

Robert Corran (UVM athletic director): “The program had evolved to a point where we anticipate they’re going to be in the mix for a conference championship each year. There are always some factors – injuries, luck – those things influence where a team ends up. We expected the team to be competitive and challenge for a league championship.”

Sorrentine: “Getting there [to the NCAA tournament] was great, but we were there two years in a row, and we had our main guys back. We didn’t just want to get there, we wanted to make noise.”

 

Sorrentine: “Having played together for four years gave us confidence. We had five seniors on that team. Our core group of guys were together for a long time, and we were a confident group of guys. We believed in each other.”

The Catamounts carried a 24-6 record into the 2005 NCAA tournament after winning the America East conference tournament. The Cats won all three tournament games by more than 10 points. On “Selection Sunday,” Vermont received a 13-seed in the tournament, and were matched up against the 4th-seeded Syracuse Orange in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Orange were two seasons removed from a National Championship victory, according to ESPN.bball6

Sorrentine: “Our senior season we played the No. 1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks in our first game of the season. We were up by five with a few minutes left [before ultimately losing]. We played North Carolina that season, and they ended up winning the championship.”

Corran: “It was the third straight year we made it to the tournament, and we really expected to surprise some people.”

Sorrentine: “A lot of people didn’t think we got a great draw, since Syracuse won the Big East tournament that season. I loved it. Syracuse plays zone, and that means a lot of open three-point shots for me. From a personal standpoint, I was fired up.”

Corran: “We had a decent seed, which really makes a huge difference in the outcomes of the first round.

March 18, 2005: The Vermont-Syracuse game tipped off at 7 p.m., and the match got off to a slow start. Both teams struggled offensively, but the Catamounts were within reach. The fourth-seeded Orange took a 23-19 lead into halftime.bball5

Sorrentine: “I felt great. We had a bad offensive first half; we just couldn’t score. To be that close at halftime, I was happy. They could have been up double digits on us.”

The Catamounts fought their way back in the second half, be- hind the scoring of senior for-ward Germain Mopa-Njila. Vermont fell behind by two points with 1:15 remaining, but forward Taylor Coppenrath tied the score at 51 with less than a minute to go. A potential game-winning basket was taken off the board when Mopa-Njila stepped out of bounds with three seconds left to play. The game went into overtime, according to ESPN. Vermont held a one-point lead with 90 seconds remaining as Sorrentine dribbled up the court.

Sorrentine: “I felt if we could make it a two-possession game, we could win the game. They backed up into their zone, and coach called a play from the sidelines. I thought, ‘we’re not running any play here.’ The defenders were creeping up towards me and I wanted to release the shot before they got to me. That’s why I shot it when I did. I didn’t want to have to pass.”

Sorrentine: “I had no plan of passing at all.”

Sorrentine’s three-point shot “from the parking lot,” as the announcer dubbed it, made it in the basket. The biggest shot in Vermont basketball history gave the Catamounts a 59-55 lead with a minute left to play, according to UVM athletics. Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara missed a three-point attempt at the buzzer, giving Vermont their first NCAA tournament win, 60-57.

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After the Shot:bball1

Vermont’s run in the 2005 NCAA tournament was upended in their next game, a 72-61 loss to Michigan State. However, this win gave UVM their first victory on college basketball’s biggest stage, according to ESPN.

Alastair Ingram (UVM director of media relations and sports information): “Even if people were neutral fans, they were going to be rooting for UVM.”

Corran: “There was a lot of excitement not only on campus, but throughout the whole state as well. It was a very special win. At that point, people started getting behind the team. It started a run of supporting the program.”

Sorrentine: “The win created excitement, and made a buzz for ourselves in the state and on campus.”

bball9Vermont’s season came to an end with a record of 25-7. A major turnover took place after the game, as the team lost five key seniors to graduation, and head coach Tom Brennan to retirement, according to ESPN.

Corran: “The first thing was that immediately after the sea- son, we had Tom Brennan retire. The win gave us real credibility going into the coaching search. The win made the program more appealing to candidates for the head coaching job.”

Ingram: “Vermont has been winning 20 games every year; the game was a springboard for the program. That’s the team that put Vermont on the map for sure.”

Corran: “The win elevated our longterm expectations of the program as a consistently competitive program. UVM has best record of Division I programs in the Northeast except UConn in the last 13 years.”

bball7Ingram: “[The game has] got to be one of the first things they mention in recruiting.”

Corran: “Generally, it elevated the profile and platform of the program in the community and compared to other mid-major programs. We’re seen as a quality mid major program now, which helps with recruiting and nonconference scheduling.”

Sorrentine: “When tournament time comes around, this game is mentioned every year.”