By Jonathan Phelps
---- — HAMILTON — After winning Thursday’s game against No. 1-ranked Indiana in the March Madness tournament, Syracuse University point guard Michael Carter-Williams looked to the stands to see his mother smiling and jumping for joy.
It’s a stark contrast to his game last week against University of California when he looked up during a timeout to see his mother, Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, crying and consoling his sister. He later found out that his family’s home at 261 Cutler Road in Hamilton was destroyed by a three-alarm fire.
Syracuse went into Thursday’s game against Indiana as underdogs, but pulled off a 61-50 win to play against Marquette University in the Elite 8 at 4:30 p.m. today.
“I think it gave them the kind of lift they needed, with the devastation that happened to their home,” said Shirley Berry, a family friend in Ipswich. “I know it meant a lot for everyone.”
Carter-Zegarowski, who is the girls basketball coach at Ipswich High, was joined by her husband, Zach, who originally was not going to make the game.
“I know it meant a lot for Michael,” Berry said. “I think it gave him the physical support he needed to play the game.”
Carter-Williams, who played for Hamilton-Wenham High School for one season before transferring to St. Andrew’s School in Rhode Island, scored 24 points and added five rebounds and four steals during the game. Many, including coach Jim Boeheim, say it was his best game all year.
“He had the best game of the season,” Berry said. “I didn’t expect them to win. They never lost their momentum and never got behind. It was one of the most exciting games I’ve watched.”
Carter-Williams has had the support of many of his teammates and family friends through what he has called a “tough time.”
“I think he’s obviously happy that no one got hurt,” Boeheim said. “And that his mom and dad and his siblings have got a place to live.”
Berry said Carter-Williams was shaken by the fire, but is thankful no one was hurt.
“They are holding up, they are very strong,” Berry said. “They have their moments, but that is going to happen. … The main thing is no one got hurt.”
She said the family has been staying with family friends until they can find a home to rent in the meantime. Donations have been pouring in from across the country to support the family. It has been reported the family lost pretty much everything except a few prized possessions in the fire.
Five people, including Carter-Williams’ stepfather, Zegarowski, and two brothers, were inside the home watching the game against University of California on TV when the fire broke out in the chimney and spread. There were no injuries.
Carter-Zegarowski and her daughter, who were watching the game from the HP Pavilion at San Jose last Saturday, found out about the fire during halftime. Carter-Williams knew something was up because he could see his mother and sister upset on the sidelines, she said.
“He started asking what was wrong and was mouthing to us, ‘What is wrong,’ so I went to the lounge area and kept waving that everything is OK, but he knew,” Carter-Zegarowski said last week.
Carter-Williams took to Twitter to thank everyone for the support after the fire. His profile features scripture from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
“Thanks again for all the prayers. My family is strong. We will pull through,” he wrote.
He told reporters after Thursday’s game that it was good to see family members cheering from the stands.
“I was really happy to see her smile and clap on the sidelines,” Carter-Williams said. “It couldn’t be better.”
Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report.
A fund has been set up to help the family in the wake of the fire. Anyone wishing to make donations can send them to Carter-Zegarowski Fire Fund, C/O Ellen Morrissey, P.O. Box 662, Rowley, MA 01969.
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.