Jim Boeheim has been one of the most consistent and successful head coaches in college basketball history and he proved it on Monday night as he reached another career milestone.
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Syracuse held off Detroit 72-68 in the Gotham Classic to give Boeheim his 900th career victory as a head coach, all with the Orange. He became just the third head coach to reach that milestone in Division I basketball, joining Mike Krzyzewski (936) and Bob Knight (902). Boeheim became the first coach to reach that number with just one team.
"To me, it's just a number," said Boeheim to the Associated Press. "If I get 900, have I got to get more? That's why maybe it's just not that important to me because to me it's just a number, and the only number that matters is how this team does."
Boeheim's family, including his wife Juli and his children, as well as his college roommate Dave Bing and Roosevelt Bouie, who was a player on Boeheim's first team in 1976-77, were all in attendance at the sold-out Carrier Dome for the event.
"Nobody would have thought when we came here 50 years ago that either one of us would have had the kind of success we've had," said Bing, today the mayor of Detroit. "I'm so pleased and proud of him because he stuck with it. He's proven that he's one of the best coaches ever in college basketball, and he'll be No. 2 shortly."
Boeheim was given a special jersey following the game with the numbers 900 on it that was encased in glass for him to keep as a memory of the game.
"I'm happy. I've stayed around long enough. I was a little nervous," Boeheim said at center court. "I'm proud to be here. To win this game is more pressure than I've felt in a long time. I wasn't thinking about losing until the end. That wouldn't have been a good thing to happen, but it very well could have."
The third-ranked Orange played well down the stretch on Monday night, holding off Detroit as they cut the score to 67-63 with 55.1 seconds left after the Titans had trailed by 20 with 6:09 to play, according to the Associated Press.
James Southerland scored 22 points with four rebounds and two assists to lead Syracuse, while Michael Carter-Williams added 12 points and 10 assists for his sixth straight double-double performance. The Orange had 17 turnovers, but had seven blocks, 15 assists and 12 offensive rebounds.
"It was great to be part of this," Carter-Williams said. "It's a part of history."
Juwan Howard Jr. scored 18 points for Detroit, including 14 points over the final part of the second half to help the Titans to a 16-0 run to get back into the game. The team has won four in a row before playing Syracuse, including
"This is a big stag," Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. Guys sitting around the hotel watching television getting ready to play the No. 3 team in the country, and they're talking about going for 900 wins, Coach Boeheim. That's a lot for a young man to digest."
According to the Associated Press, during Boeheim's tenure "Syracuse has had 71 crowds of more than 30,000 since the Carrier Dome opened in 1980 and holds the NCAA on-campus record of 34,616, set nearly three years ago against Villanova."
"The support of fans cannot be overestimated," he said. "You have to have that kind of support in your building to bring recruits in, to help you play better. We've had a tremendous loyal fan base. That's why I always felt this was a great place to coach and why I never really thought about going anywhere else. The support from the fans is the No. 1 thing you have to have."
Following the game at his press conference, Boeheim was somber and spoke about the tragedy in Connecticut that shook so many in the sports world and also took on the issue of guns and violence in American culture.
He said he was thinking about two 6-year-old boys who were buried Monday and the rest of the 18 other children and six adults who were shot to death on Friday in a shooting massacre last week at an elementary school in Connecticut.
"If we cannot get the people who represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society," Boeheim said Monday night. "If one person in this world, the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots -- this is our fault if we don't go out there and do something about this. If we can't get this thing done, I don't know what kind of country we have."
Boeheim has had a long and storied career with the Orange and had his first victory against Harvard in 1976. He won a national championship in 2003 with Carmelo Anthony and was a student, walk-on basketball player and an assistant coach at Syracuse before becoming the head coach.
According to ESPN.com, "His 37 seasons in charge are the most of any coach in Division I. He has taken 29 teams to the NCAA tournament, the most all time. He has won 20 games or more in 34 seasons, also the most all time. He has 402 Big East wins and 47 Big East tournament wins, also both the most all time."
Boeheim has used the 2-3 zone to great success over his career at Syracuse and has been known around basketball circles as a genius when it comes to game-planning. He won a gold medal as a coach on the 2008 USA Men's Basketball team and has won Big East Coach of the Year four different times in his career.
His all-time record is 900-304 for a .747 winning percentage and is 46-27 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Last season Syracuse went 34-3 and finished first in the Big East with a 17-1 record. The team won three games in the NCAA tournament before losing 77-70 to Ohio State in the regional finals.
Syracuse will next play Temple on Dec. 22 and the team wins that game Boeheim will have a chance to tie Bobby Knight's career wins with a victory over Alcorn State.