Syracuse basketball fans turn out in Indy, chant for Buddy and defense. ‘Oh my God, it was amazing.’
Indianapolis – When Erin Siechen learned the entire NCAA men’s basketball tournament would be held here, she could not believe her good fortune.
Siechen, a junior pharmacy major at Butler University, graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse High School and considers herself a lifelong Orange basketball fan. The Siechens named their American bulldog “Melo” after Syracuse won the 2003 NCAA title.
Her dad worked his Syracuse connections and procured four seats in Hinkle Fieldhouse for Erin and three of her friends. It was the first time Siechen saw the Orange play in person since a trip home her freshman year to watch SU-North Carolina.
She sat a vast social distance behind the Orange bench Friday night and witnessed Syracuse cruise to a win over San Diego State.
“Oh, my God, it was amazing. I knew it was going to be so cool,” she said. “Once they announced it was at Hinkle, I was like, ‘I literally live two minutes away from Hinkle. I need to go.’ It was so cool, and obviously Syracuse played amazing.”
It was cool for a lot of Orange fans Friday night. Deprived of watching from inside the Carrier Dome this season because of Covid restrictions, Syracuse fans devised various methods to seek seats, then arrived at Hinkle to witness the Orange.
They wore orange clothes. A couple fans wore orange wigs. Some sat behind the Syracuse “bench.” Others sat across from it. They chanted “Bud-dy Boe-heim!” in cadence. They chanted “Let’s go O-range.” They vocally pleaded for defense. They stood and clapped at the beginning of each half until Syracuse scored its first bucket.
Kevin Belbey, the former Syracuse team manager and Boeheim’s Army general manager, got tickets from SU’s director of basketball operations Peter Corasaniti. A couple of hours before the game, Corasaniti texted Belbey.
“He said we haven’t had fans all year, we’ve had limited fans on the road,” Belbey said. “This team hasn’t heard a ‘Lets go Orange’ chant all year. Let’s make that happen.’”
Syracuse players in general and Joe Girard in particular appreciated the noise. At various points of Friday’s game, when the Orange was enticing San Diego State to take and miss 3-point shots, when the Orange was splashing its own 3s in staggering numbers, Girard raised his arms to the cheering crowd, asking for more.
Most of those SU fans had not watched a game in person since last season. The array of Orange supporters included regulars Adam Weitsman, Joyce Hergenhan and Barbara Boeheim, Jim Boeheim’s sister. Dion Waiters and Eric Devendorf showed up. So did Zaire Franklin and Arthur Jones.
Remember former SU guard Ron Patterson? He was there. Joe Girard’s dad and Alan Griffin’s mom watched the game in person, too.
“It was really great to see the fans,” SU coach Jim Boeheim said Saturday. “Joe really reacted to it the most, I think, of anybody on our team.”
Ryan Raffensperger, a 1995 Syracuse University graduate, lives in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, close to Mount St. Mary’s. The Mount played in the First Four and Raffensperger, his wife Kristi, their daughter Caton and his parents drove to Indianapolis to see college basketball in person for the first time in a long time.
Raffensperger saw The Mount lose. He watched Arkansas beat Colgate. When he’d checked ticket prices on the secondary market Selection Sunday for the Syracuse game, the cheapest seats cost $500. On a whim, he tried again after the Colgate game and secured three seats for the game for $50 each.
The Raffenspergers sat close to the Hinkle ceiling, surrounded by San Diego State fans. They didn’t care.
“It was really a unique experience, a great experience,” Ryan Raffensperger said. “It was good to feel Syracuse basketball again (Friday) night and get that Orange experience. And Hinkle, of the places I was at … that would be the place I’d want to watch a college basketball game again.”
Tom Ragonese secured his Syracuse seats through Hergenhan, a friend who knew he lived in Indiana and offered him a ticket. Ragonese, who earned his undergraduate (2000) and graduate (2002) degrees from SU, last saw Syracuse play in person last season at Louisville. On Friday, he saw old friends and snapped a photo with Dion Waiters. He screamed himself hoarse.
“It was so bizarre, especially since I’ve watched them on TV for the past year,” he said. “It’s weird to lose your voice again, to hear Dome chants, so to speak, instead of just watching it at home where I’m doing it all in my head. You could see the players, Girard particularly, egging the fans on for sure. It’s amazing to see. The crowd definitely influences the players, the officials and vice versa. It’s give-and-take and it’s kind of cool.”
Scott Wolfson and his wife Randi are the parents of SU team manager Jordan Wolfson. The Wolfsons missed their son’s Senior Day in the Carrier Dome because of Covid. They had traveled with the team to Italy two summers ago and got tickets from Jordan for the ACC tournament last weekend.
After a season of mostly agonizing through games on TV, Scott Wolfson appreciated Friday’s breezy SU victory.
“Being a Syracuse fan, you don’t get games like this,” he said. “You have to suffer through all games. To be able to be at a game like this – we didn’t take the foot off the pedal and it was just exciting and fun. You usually don’t have fun watching Syracuse games. This was a fun game.”
Fun. That was the overwhelming description of what SU fans experienced Friday in Hinkle. For a year, Covid-19 had kept them from games, had physically separated them from their Orange passion.
And then, there was historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, a limited crowd and a couple of hours of pure Syracuse basketball joy.
“I’ve been to almost all the games this season and even though there were a lot of Butler fans, to be honest, it felt empty,” Siechen said. “For this game, we had the same amount of people but everyone that was there wanted to be there because they hadn’t been to a game. It was so loud.
“Players constantly looked up to the fans and were trying to get them hyped. Players were smiling to actually see somebody traveling to watch them play. And it was just awesome seeing that even though we were 10 hours from Syracuse.”
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