Date story was published: Monday, February 29, 1988
As a circle of reporters crowded all the more tightly around Eric Manuel, Winston Bennett captioned the post-game locker room scene.
"The Moon shines again," Bennett shouted.
An embarrassed smile crossed the round face of Eric "Moon" Manuel. Yes, he had shone brightly, especially when things looked darkest for Kentucky. "Moon's" seven points in the final 2:26 allowed Kentucky to come back from a nine-point second-half deficit and harvest a satisfying -- if relatively meaningless -- 62-58 victory over Syracuse yesterday.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
"A game like this has only a modest impact on the (NCAA Tournament) seedings," said Dick Schultz, the first-year executive director of the NCAA. Schultz, a past chairman of the tournament selection committee, attended the game as part of his get-out-and-meet-the-people approach. "If there were two teams in the East battling for the top seed, then it might have an impact. But even then it would be very minimal. A game like this is really a fun game."
Fun it was.
Ask Rob Lock. The UK center had his moments (12 points and four steals) in battling Syracuse's huge front line. One of Lock's steals led to the first of Manuel's clutch points down the stretch: a knocked-to-the-floor jumper and three-point play that gave UK a 57-56 lead with 2:26 left. It was the Cats' first lead since 20-19.
After Manuel's baseline jumper put UK ahead for good, 59-58, with 55 seconds left, and his baseline-to-baseline driving dunk with eight seconds to go made victory likely, Lock clinched it. He tracked down a wayward Syracuse inbounds pass, was intentionally fouled and sank a clinching free throw with four seconds left.
When it was over, Lock searched out his parents and bearhugged them at courtside. This followed a similar hugging of Manuel before Lock added the final free throw.
"There was a lot of emotion out there because we wanted to win this game as badly as any all year," Lock said. "Because of the prestige of Syracuse (ranked 10th). And because we had a lot of adversity against us being without Rex."
Rex Chapman, UK's leading scorer (17.8 ppg), warmed up but couldn't convince Sutton he should play.
"I tried," Chapman said. "He told me if I felt like playing, he'd start me. I told him I felt I could play, but he didn't play me."
His back, injured in a nasty fall against Louisiana State last Wednesday, felt "OK," Chapman said. Back to normal, despite a still-mending broken bone, the sophomore guard was asked. "Not close to normal," he conceded.
Thanks mostly to the inside punch of center Rony Seikaly and forward Derrick Coleman, who combined for 34 points and 24 rebounds, Syracuse established a 49-40 lead with 12:19 left. Five straight Seikaly points gave the Orangemen the game's largest lead.
"We did a good job of getting the ball inside," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "Then we had four possessions where we didn't convert. Unfortunately, as it turned out, they were on fast-break opportunities. In this game, we were better off in the half-court game. That got them back into it and it came down to a 'who makes the last shot.' "
Manuel, who finished with 11 points, made the game's last three field goals.
Syracuse switched to a box-and-one defense, with the chaser on point guard Ed Davender. The "box" shaded Bennett.
"I knew I was the third man and I knew I had to do it," Manuel said. "I knew I had to get open for the shot."
From just inside the three-point line, Manuel sank a jumper a split-second before Stephen Thompson leveled him. The three-point play put UK ahead 57-56.
After Seikaly's two free throws put Syracuse ahead 58-57 with 90 seconds left, UK went back to Manuel.
"We call the play 'wing-through,' " Davender said. "It's part of our zone offense. We either go inside or to a man if he gets open off a screen. I got it to him (Manuel) and he hit a big-time shot."
The baseline jumper put UK ahead 59-58 with 55 seconds left.
"I was too open not to shoot," Manuel said.
Syracuse had two chances to counter.
Cedric Jenkins blocked Sherman Douglas' awkward baseline shot. Syracuse got the rebound, called time with 25 seconds left, and, again, Douglas drove to an off-balanced jumper. It hung on the rim long enough for Coleman to mis-time his rebound attempt. Seikaly got a hand on the ball as it rolled off.
"I came very close," Seikaly said, "but not close enough."
Bennett was the reason.
"I had run to Seikaly to try to block him out and I had pushed him under the board," Bennett said. "When the ball came off, I pushed him a little farther."
Manuel scooped up the loose ball. As he got out of traffic, Manuel found the open court before him.
"I just saw an open court," he said. "I saw (Matt) Roe and Ed. Roe kind of slipped and I ran as fast as I could."
A two-handed jam put UK ahead 61-58 with eight seconds left.
Manuel wasn't through. He tapped Douglas' dribble out of bounds, killing another two seconds. The ensuing inbounds pass was tracked down by Lock.
"Manuel is not a freshman," UK coach Eddie Sutton said. "He's a seasoned player. He plays like a senior."
High praise on this day.
UK's seniors -- Davender, Jenkins (off the bench), Lock and Bennett -- played key roles as UK improved to 20-5. Syracuse fell to 21-7.
Bennett led UK's balanced attack with 15, including the first three-pointer of his career. It came from the left corner with 53 seconds left in the first half. The bomb tied it at 30.
"The play was called for me to shoot, but not a three-pointer," said Bennett, who intentionally moved out behind the line. "I knew what I was doing. As much as I've worked on my outside shooting, I felt I had confidence.
"It felt good to me. I was uplifted. I didn't show much emotion, but inside I was overboiling with joy."
With Chapman gone, Davender played 40 minutes. He succeeded in maintaining a slow-down pace.
"Tempo was a key thing," Sutton said. "Syracuse is at their best when it's a wide-open, broken floor kind of game. We didn't allow them to do that. I think that bothered them."
Early on, Seikaly and Coleman thrived. Seikaly's 12 first-half points led Syracuse to a 32-30 halftime lead.
"I wanted the ball inside as much as possible," Seikaly said. "We see so few man-to-man defenses. I thought this was a perfect chance to play."
But UK adapted. Lock continued to funnel Seikaly into the lane. The difference, he said, was the help from teammates, who helped him choke off the Syracuse center.
Seikaly had just two free throws in the final 12:19.
"I'm particularly proud of myself," Lock said. "All week people said he'd be eating my lunch. They said it'd be another repeat of the Navy game."
Navy's David Robinson scored 45 against Lock and UK last season.
"Although he (Seikaly) had a great game, we won," Lock said, "and that's the bottom line."