This isn’t Patrick Herlihy’s first NCAA tournament with the Syracuse men’s basketball team. Yet it is the first one where he’s wearing an Orange uniform.
After three seasons as a team manager, the former Charleston Catholic basketball player has spent this season as a walk-on player — one getting ready to face fellow Atlantic Coast Conference member Duke in the Sweet 16 at 9:37 p.m. Friday in Omaha, Nebraska.
It has been a topsy-turvy four years for Herlihy and the Orange when it comes to the postseason. In 2015, the Orange self-imposed a one-year postseason ban for NCAA rule violations. In 2016, Syracuse reached the Final Four. Last season, the team lost in the second round of the NIT, and this season, it advanced through the tournament’s first week.
Experiencing this season from a player’s perspective has been its own wild ride, Herlihy said.
“It’s just been unbelievable,” Herlihy, a senior, said. “You actually are one of these guys, seeing how they’ve developed through the years, and seeing how they do each and every game. Seeing these players on the biggest stage just shine like this … these games have been so hard-fought, I have so much faith and respect in these guys.”
The Orange had to fight hard just to get to this point. After getting bounced from the ACC tournament in the second round, Syracuse was the last team to make it into the NCAA tournament and faced Arizona State in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio. There, the Orange came from seven points down with 7:05 to play to win 60-56.
Then Syracuse went to Detroit and beat TCU 57-52 in the first round and Michigan State 55-53 in the second round to reach the Sweet 16. Syracuse outscored the Spartans 12-5 in the last 5:41 of that second-round game to advance.
“It’s more motivation for me, because there were so many people saying we didn’t deserve to get into the tournament,” Herlihy said. “Just to show people what we can do … we won three games in five days. Just doing that has been unbelievable.”
As a walk-on, Herlihy’s playing time has been sparse. The senior has appeared in four games and made one of the two shots he has attempted. Still, the double major in information management and technology and sports management was named Syracuse’ male Scholar-Athlete of the Week in February.
And he’s not wasting his time in a Syracuse uniform. He hopes to be a coach one day and said seeing the game through a player’s eyes will help him in that path to becoming a coach.
“When you’re a manager, you’re just on the sidelines watching,” Herlihy said. “So you can say things, and tell them to go harder or work harder. But when you’re actually playing, you understand how much they’re going through and how, at some points, the fatigue of the season takes a toll on you. You’re more sympathetic toward that, so you want them to get their rest and get their bodies right so they can be 100 percent for this time in the season.”
The Orange, an 11-seed in the tournament, hope to be at 100 percent for Friday’s game against the Blue Devils, a 2-seed. Duke, which fell to North Carolina in the ACC tournament semifinals, thumped both Iona and Rhode Island to reach the NCAA’s Sweet 16. In its lone game against Syracuse, Duke won 60-44.
“This time, it’s a neutral court,” Herlihy said. “And ’Cuse travels well. Hopefully, we can do what it takes.”
Whatever Friday’s outcome, Herlihy will always be able to say he was a player on a Sweet 16 college basketball team. It’s a great way for a college experience to come to a close.
“Just watching the guys and being one of the guys on this journey,” Herlihy said, “it’s one thing to be watching the team behind the scenes, but this is an unbelievable experience and unbelievable journey.”