The Syracuse faithful inside the Carrier Dome were stunned.
Their beloved Orange, who was ranked No. 14 in the country, was being tracked down by Coppin State – who was 1-7 at the time – late in the second half of a game that should’ve been well in hand at that point.
It was December 28, 2008, a time in Syracuse’s schedule reserved for blowout victories against inferior opponents. Instead, with 8:35 left, Syracuse clung to a 61-57 lead, and was searching desperately for any kind of spark.
And that is when junior guard Andy Rautins took over.
Over the next three minutes, Rautins would carry the Orange with three 3-pointers, and with 5:38 remaining, the Orange had established a 72-59 lead en route to an 82-71 win. All was safe, except for Gerry McNamara’s all-time school record for three point goals in a game.
McNamara now had company on top of that list as Rautins finished with 29 points on 9-of-16 from downtown, tying McNamara’s record that was set against BYU in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2004.
“That’s great company,” Rautins said. “[McNamara] was a legend here.”
Rautins should know a thing or two about following a legend.
His father, Leo Rautins, played for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim in the 80s while amassing 1,031 points in his SU career and played two seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Certainly, Leo Rautins was a great shooter at Syracuse as well, but he has been remembered as much for his cerebral approach to games as his soft shooting touch. At the end of his time at Syracuse, Rautins may be remembered in the same way.
RAUTINS THE SHARPSHOOTER
It is unquestioned that the Rautins is a great shooter.
Last season, Rautins drained 102 3-pointers while connecting on 37 percent from long distance. Rautins was one of the major reasons why Syracuse advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004.
After going scoreless in Syracuse’s first round win over Stephen F. Austin, Rautins responded with 17 points off the bench in the Orange’s 78-68 win over Arizona State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
It was in that game that Rautins hit the biggest shot of his Syracuse career.
With 6:35 left, the Orange watched their 15-point lead evaporate as Arizona State closed to within 61-57 (which, coincidentally, was the score during the critical point of the Coppin State game). In the huddle, Boeheim diagramed a baseline screen for Rautins to free him up for a corner 3-pointer, and Rautins responded in the same way he did against the game against Coppin State, quashing any hopes for a Sun Devil comeback.
“[Rautins] got just a little room and [the defender] was late,” Boeheim said. “Obviously the way the momentum of the game was, that was a big play.”
Nevermind that Rautins had gone 0-for-6 in the first round. The Orange knew that Rautins was the man they wanted for that shot.
“Regardless as a shooter you have to keep shooting no matter what,” Rautins said. “That’s what good shooters do, they bounce back and they stay confident.”
RAUTINS THE PLAYMAKER
But Rautins’ role on the 2009-10 team will go far beyond just being a shooter.
While Boeheim will certainly try to get Rautins as many open shots as possible this season, the Syracuse coach is also expecting Rautins to excel in other aspects of his game.
“Andy is better than he’s played yet,” Boeheim said. “We know he’s capable of making shots but I think he’s capable of making plays and I think he will do that.”
Boeheim’s prediction is hardly bold since Rautins’ metamorphosis into a complete player begun a full year ago playing for the Canadian National Team.
During the summer of 2008, Rautins had finally started playing at full speed again after his 2007 season had been lost to an ACL injury. After being selected to play for the Canadian senior men’s national team in the Olympic qualifying tournament, Rautins shifted to an unfamiliar position for the duration of the summer – point guard.
“The entire summer I played point guard,” Rautins said. “I’m a much better player for having done that.”
In 16 minutes against Team USA – the eventual 2008 Gold Medal winning team – Rautins played exclusively at that position, matched up against NBA star Chris Paul.
“That was an unbelievable experience,” Rautins said. “It is a little bit intimidating, but all in all you come out as a better player after having played them.”
Indeed, he did.
Besides his productive season shooting the ball, Rautins was the team’s second best playmaker, as his 112 assists to 73 turnovers, was good for second best ratio on the team behind point guard Jonny Flynn.
Rautins was also a hawk on defense, adding 52 steals, which was also second on the team to Flynn.
Now, Flynn is gone. As is starting shooting guard Eric Devendorf and wing Paul Harris.
RAUTINS THE LEADER
While Wesley Johnson has stepped into Harris’ spot and Rautins has replaced Devendorf, the Orange are left with the tandem of sophomore Scoop Jardine (who missed all of last year with a stress fracture in his leg) and freshman Brandon Triche.
Regardless of who starts at point guard between the two, there will be a significant drop off in experience.
Boeheim is hardly concerned primarily because of Rautins.
“[Triche and Jardine are] inexperienced players, but, we’ve had inexperienced point guards in the past that have adjusted and played well,” Boeheim said. “One of the good things for a young point guard is to have a veteran with him in the backcourt like Andy (Rautins), a guy that’s been here in big-game situations for three years.”
Besides, even if Jardine and Triche don’t meet expectations, Rautins now has an opportunity to create plays on his own.
“[Rautins] hasn’t really had the platform to give him the ball,” Boeheim said. “Obviously Jonny [Flynn] and Eric [Devendorf] were tremendous offensive players and they were the first two guys on our attack. But I think Andy is capable of making plays.”
Actually, he already has.
Lost in Rautins’ dazzling shooting clinic in the win against Coppin State was his underappreciated court vision. When Coppin State had closed to within four, it was a Rautins pass – not a 3-pointer – that put the Orange back in control.
Rautins whipped a pass to a streaking Harris for a baseline layup that thwarted the Eagles’ momentum and allowed the home crowd to exhale a sigh of relief.
It is those moments that have the Orange optimistic about Rautins aiding them to another NCAA Tournament push despite a major overhaul in personnel from last year’s team.
“I take on the challenge of being a leader out here mentally and keeping these guys in it vocally,” Rautins said. “Having been here for four or five years now will not only benefit me but the team.”
This article appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Juice.