By Matt Jenkins
---- — Less than 24 hours after Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse men's basketball team were bounced from the Final Four by Michigan, the sophomore point guard from Hamilton was able to keep this season in perspective.
"You know, playing in the Final four is something that is a great accomplishment. We're not going to judge our season on the last game," Carter-Williams said from Syracuse, N.Y. last night. "A lot of people counted us out and didn't have us making it that far. I think we went past our expectations (this season) and everyone played great."
The Wolverines were able to find soft spots in Syracuse's stingy zone defense in the first half, and the Orange simultaneously seemed to have one of their worst offensive games of the season. Despite a late push, Michigan was able to hold on for a 61-56 victory.
Syracuse came into the national semifinal allowing less than 46 points per game in its four tournament wins. The Orange only allowed 34 points against Montana and 39 in their win over Marquette, but the Wolverines led 36-25 at halftime.
"I don't think they were doing anything too special (offensively)," Carter-Williams said. "They had a couple players come off the bench and hit four threes. We didn't know much about those players and they stepped up real big."
Michigan's big name players — Associated Press Player of the Year Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Glen Robinson III — were kept in check for the most part, but a pair of lesser-known freshmen knocked down some big shots in the first half.
Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht each hit a pair of triples to help the Wolverines open a double-digit halftime advantage. Coming into the game, LeVert and Albrecht had combined to make only 23 three-pointers the entire season.
Syracuse chipped away at the deficit in the second half and pulled to within one point (57-56) with 41 seconds left when James Southerland hit a three.
"I think we got out on shooters a lot better," Carter-Williams said. "We worked harder in the second half and didn't get broken down. We just needed to crash the boards a little more because our offense wasn't great."
Even though Syracuse (30-10) made it interesting down the stretch, it had a hard time closing because the team's starting backcourt — Carter-Williams and senior Brandon Triche — each fouled out in the final minutes.
Carter-Williams, who had a tremendous tournament overall, statistically had one of his worst games of the season against Michigan.
He shot just 1 of 6 from the field, scored two points, had only two assists and committed five turnovers. He did grab five rebounds and lead Syracuse with a pair of steals.
Carter-Williams picked up his fifth foul when he ran through Hardaway, Jr. after a dribble hand-off with 1:14 to play.
Carter-Williams' fourth foul was debatable.
Hardaway, Jr. tried to dribble out of a trap in the halfcourt and Carter-Williams stepped in front of him and got knocked to the ground when Michigan's junior guard led with his forearm.
Despite the large deficit and Syracuse's difficulty scoring, the Orange didn't quit.
"We never lost faith," Carter-Williams said. "We kept fighting until the clock hit zero. We never lost faith at all."
With the tournament now in the rear-view mirror for Carter-Williams and Syracuse, the focus obviously turns to the Hamilton resident's future.
Carter-Williams, who offers unusual length at the point guard position (6-foot-6), is expected to be a lottery pick in June's NBA Draft if he chooses to leave school.
He finished the season averaging 11.9 points, 7.3 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. He led the team in assists and steals (111) and was third in rebounding and fourth in points per game.
"I'm just trying to deal with school work and get caught up, then after all that I'll make a decision," said Carter-Williams, who is majoring in Communications. "I'm really ahead of schedule. If I stay in school I'll be graduating next year."