WASHINGTON — Syracuse can flash back three weeks and pinpoint the exact moment it committed to the idea it was a Final Four team.
Give or take an hour.
It was the morning you were supposed to push your clocks forward.
It was also the day after the Orange had been rolled by Georgetown by 22 points at the Verizon Center.
The Hoyas left the building with a share of the Big East regular-season title.
The Orangemen left Washington with an 11-7 conference record, questioning themselves as a team after losing four of five games.
When they woke up, it seemed like everyone’s clocks said something different.
The coaches were an hour late.
“I forgot to set my clock forward,” coach Jim Boeheim said. “So I was a little late.”
The players were an hour early.
“We could’ve done a bunch of things,” guard Michael Carter-Williams said.
They could have lollygagged. They could have aimlessly thrown up some shots until the coaches got there. They could have just hung out. And all of those options crossed their minds.
But when Boeheim finally got to practice, they were playing four-on-four with senior Brandon Triche and sophomore Carter-Williams taking charge.
“We were all at practice early and we said, ‘We’re going to go and do the usual routine, but we’re still going to do it hard,’ ” Carter-Williams said. “That’s when we came together and took responsibility for ourselves.”
It went on for 45 minutes.
“Just to get the competitiveness back,” Carter-Williams said. “We didn’t compete against Georgetown. We didn’t take pride, and we let them push us around. We just started competing again and having faith in each other.”
The run the Orangemen went on after that practice, seven wins in eight games, has led them to their fifth Final Four. They punched their ticket Saturday by going back to the Verizon Center, where they were last seen as listless, and beating a conference rival, Marquette, 55-39, with a relentless defense that choked the air out of the Golden Eagles.
“That was great for us,” Carter-Williams said. “It made us come together and take responsibility for our season. If we were going to make a run at this thing, we were going to have to come together and do it as a team.”
“Coaches can say and do anything they want, but, at the end of the day, there’s five guys on the court and there’s however many guys on the bench cheering us on. It’s all about us. We just had to take responsibility for our actions and just play as hard as we can and stick together.”
Carter-Williams scored 12 points and dished out five assists, capping a dramatic week in which his Hamilton, Mass., home went up in flames. When he thought about where this team was not even a month ago, he said playing for a national championship was the farthest thing from his mind.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the Final Four,” Carter Williams said. “I wasn’t thinking about none of this. I was just thinking about getting back on the right track and taking it one step at a time and it just led to this.”
The Orange did it by holding Marquette to 22.6 percent shooting, with star guard Vander Blue (3 of 15) and reserve big man Davante Gardner (6 of 9) the only two players with multiple field goals for the Golden Eagles.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams already had done all the math in his head.
He understood that, with the all the long and spidery bodies in his 2-3 zone, Boeheim was basically betting that teams couldn’t make enough 3s to beat him.
Boeheim was coming out ahead.
He knew all teams could muster from the 3-point line was a sickly 16 percent.
“We helped them,” Williams said after his team went 3 of 25 from beyond the arc (12 percent).
Syracuse forward James Southerland (16 points, three 3s) knocked down as many 3s as Marquette, including one with 2:23 left that all but iced it.
“I knew it was going in,” he said. “I think all my shots are going in. Every shot I take feels good.”
After reaching the Elite Eight last season, and falling short, getting to the Final Four this season was gratifying for Boeheim, who hushed rumors that he had intentions of retiring by saying he would return next season.
“When you break through and you get there,” he said, “it just makes it so much better.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.