Warrick fuels Orange with high-flying act

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- One dunk.

That's all it takes for Hakim Warrick to change a game, a mood, and at times an entire season for Syracuse.

It's not often that a dunk can do all of that, but no one in the country can alter the attitude of a game and 33,000 people more than Warrick.

His latest signature slam came along the baseline. He came up with a steal, and then finished the play with a one-handed baseline jam. The play cut Notre Dame's lead to five points at 50-45.

And wouldn't you know it that after Chris Thomas couldn't make a free throw, Syracuse's Gerry McNamara buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to two.

The Irish unraveled from there with a five-second call, and a technical foul on coach Mike Brey.

McNamara and Warrick made free throws and Syracuse eventually pulled away for a 60-57 victory.

Can we really credit a dunk?

"As soon as he gets one of those dunks, it changes everything," said Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins. "Did you see what it did to the crowd? We were dead. We had no energy. We were lethargic. As soon as he gets one of those dunks, it changes everything."

And don't think for a minute that Warrick doesn't think about the effect of his dunks. Warrick's reach to the rim, which has to be the longest in the country from the block to the sideline, is akin to the old Stretch Armstrong.

Remember that famed toy? He stretched and stretched his arms out, reaching heights not normally attainable by a doll and certainly no human being.

"I wanted to make a big play," Warrick said. "I attacked the rim and got my teammates into it. When I make plays like that I can get the crowd going. I definitely wanted to make a spectacular play."

"He's ridiculous," McNamara said of Warrick's athleticism from the 3-point line to the backboard. "Nothing he does surprises me. He's the most athletic player I've ever seen. Thank God I've never gotten caught under him at practice."

Warrick isn't about dunking, although he knows that his dunks count for more than just a bucket. Warrick finished with 20 points, making 7 of 12 shots, 5 of 7 in the second half.

Warrick started to get the ball closer to the basket after earlier in the game when he was getting it too far from the basket. When that was happening, the Orange were wilting and listless and down 11 at one point before an 11-0 run by the Orange tied the game at 50-50.

Notre Dame's Torin Francis said the Orange did a decent job of keeping Warrick away from the basket and not allowing him to get position.

"We were giving him the ball 17 or 18 feet from the basket, standing around and watching him dribble around," McNamara said. "If we got him to touch the ball around the block it could be a different story."

The Orange don't hesitate for their pick for national player of the year. Warrick is their choice with his 20 points and eight rebounds a game.

But for Warrick to be this dominant a player, regardless of the dunks, he needs to get the ball in the right spot.

"Every timeout [in the second half], coach [Jim Boeheim] was saying that Hakim is the best player and to go to him," Hopkins said. "He said every time in the halfcourt 'we've got to get the ball to Hakim.' After the game, coach continued to say that we have to get the ball to Hakim every time. If we do that then it will open up our shooters."

That's what happened later in the game when McNamara buried the 3-pointer to cut the lead to two. The Orange has the inside-out combo to make a run for the national title.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, much like the Orange did earlier Saturday at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse plays Connecticut on Monday. The Orange then go to Villanova, host Pittsburgh and then face a potential Big East conference title showdown against Boston College on Feb. 19.

What would have happened if the Orange didn't come back from 11 down with six minutes left in the game?

"It would have been crushing," Warrick said. "It would have been the most disappointing game of my career. You can't lose a game like this."

They didn't, in large part, because of Warrick's dunk. When he has one, there are usually more that follow and when they do, the game changes for the Orange.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.