BOSTON – Jim Boeheim stood off to the side in a very quiet locker room, sipping a soda and looking like a coach whose season had just come to an end.
He didn't hesitate when asked if it would take him some time to look back on a long season of off-court issues that came up one win short of the Final Four.
"I don't have to wait to look back. I know right now," he said minutes after top-seeded Syracuse lost 77-70 to No. 2 seed Ohio State on Saturday night in the East Regional final. "What these kids went through all year long, that they battled their tails off to get to this stage of the NCAA tournament was unbelievable."
On a night when the Orange's famed 2-3 zone defense did an OK job, their offense let them down.
Instead of heading to New Orleans, where they won their only national championship in 2003, the Orange (34-3) will return to central New York after a season that saw them ranked No. 1 for six weeks and never out of the top five.
"I thought we fought as hard as we have all year, just like we do every game," Boeheim said. "I thought our defense was good. I just thought we lost a little offensive patience. I thought we forced some shots in some situations when we should have been a little more patient. I think our offense hurt us tonight."
The loss capped a season in which longtime assistant Bernie Fine was fired amid allegations of sexual abuse; starting center Fab Melo was ruled ineligible by the school for seven games, including the entire NCAA tournament; and there was a late-season report that former players were allowed to practice and play when they should have been suspended by the athletic department over positive drug tests.
Through all that, the basketball team started the season 20-0, earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and got within one win of the school's fifth Final Four appearance.
Scoop Jardine was fighting backs tears as he spoke in the locker room.
"We took everything they threw at us," he said of his senior season. "We played and we played our tails off. We had each other. We always had each other. In this locker room right now, we have each other."
The Orange just didn't have the same shooting touch they had all season.
Kris Joseph, the team's leading scorer with a 13.5 average on 42.2 percent shooting, was 4 of 11 for 10 points against Ohio State (31-7). Dion Waiters, the team's sixth man and offensive spark, had nine points on 2-for-8 shooting. In the first half, Syracuse shot 35.7 percent, a figure the Orange improved to 41.5 percent by game's end.
"Like Coach said, tonight wasn't really our night on the offensive end but I thought we did a good job of sticking with it. That's what we've done all year and that's why it hurts so much," Jardine said.
Boeheim would only dwell on one of the team's problems this season — the only one that actually affected what happened on the court.
"The biggest thing was losing (center Fab) Melo, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, days before the tournament and that they were able to overcome that and get to this point was more impressive to me than winning 31 games in the regular season," he said. "You take that huge presence out of there and still get through Kansas State and Wisconsin. Take (Jared) Sullinger away from Ohio State and I don't think they're here."
The Orange trailed by 10 points in the second half and were able to pull to 55-54 on a 3-pointer by Brandon Triche with 6:50 left. But they never got the lead and the Buckeyes were able to seal it by making 13 of 14 free throws over the final 1:08.
Ohio State finished 31 of 42 from the line, a huge amount of attempts against a team playing zone.
Boeheim refused to comment on the officiating. Jardine did.
"I want to give Ohio State a lot of credit. They won the game," he said. "Without the referees they played a good game and that's all I've got to say about that. We're not going to blame it on the refs. I think we had a chance to win the game no matter what, with the refs or without them giving us any calls."
Boeheim received a technical foul in the first half for what the officials said through a pool reporter was for "being out of the coach's box and gesturing about a call."
"First one in about three years, I think," was all Boeheim had to say about the technical.