Last night, anybody who managed to fight off exhaustion and stay awake for the entire game was treated to what was probably the best game, basketball or any other sporting event, that they have ever seen. The UConn Huskies and Syracuse Orange played in a game that looked like it might never end. However, three hours and forty-six minutes later, after six overtime periods, and eight players fouling out, the game finally concluded with Syracuse pulling the upset win, 127 – 117. This is the fourth time in five years that Syracuse has handed UConn their ticket home from the Big East Tournament, and the seniors will leave Storrs without ever winning a Big East Tournament game. Uconn’s last win came in 2005 against Georgetown.
It seemed as though this game was going to end in regulation when Eric Devendorf, of Syracuse, caught a seventy foot pass from Paul Harris, turned and threw up a last second three pointer at the buzzer. Devendorf sank the shot, the referees said that the shot counted, and Madison Square Garden went into hysteria. The referees gathered to look at the replay, and decided that the ball was still on Devendorf’s fingertips when the clock hit triple zero. This reversal gave UConn a second chance, and a third, and fourth, fifth, sixth, and finally seventh, but missed free throw after missed free throw kept Syracuse alive in the overtimes.
The Huskies actually appeared to dominate the first five overtime periods. They did not trail at any point until the sixth overtime, and twice they held a six point lead. Syracuse refused to give in, and with the help of an abysmal showing at the line from the Huskies, 24/42 (52 percent), Syracuse was able to claw their way back into the game each time. Unlike UConn, the Orange helped themselves at the line, going 40/51 (78 percent).
Both teams had numerous opportunities to win the game in each overtime period, but neither one could convert. A.J. Price, the Huskies’ senior point guard, led the team with 33 points and 10 assists, but it was his questionable decision making late in two of the overtime periods that may have cost UConn the game. At the end of the third and fifth overtimes, A.J. Price had the ball in his hands, but maybe due to fatigue, ended up taking long, off balance three pointers with close to five seconds remaining, with shots missing badly. At the end of the second overtime period, Price also had the ball in his hands and missed an off balance jumper from the elbow.
While UConn was missing big shots, Syracuse, namely Andy Rautins continued to find a way to make them. Rautins sank a three pointer with eleven seconds left in the third overtime, a period in which UConn had a six point lead, to tie the game and send it to the fourth. He then made a trifecta to start the sixth overtime, and Syracuse never looked back. Rautins ended the game with 20 points, while shooting 6-12 from behind the arc.
On top of Rautins’ performance, Johnny Flynn and Paul Harris were probably the two best players on the court during the overtime periods. Flynn finished the game with 34 points, 11 assists, and 6 steals, and converted all sixteen of his free throw attempts. Paul Harris, who must have felt like a lid was put on the baskets during the last minute of every overtime period, as he continued to miss wide open layups, stepped up when Syracuse needed him. He finished with 29 points, 22 rebounds, and converted 13-14 free throws. Harris converted on a crucial old-fashioned three point play when he finally converted a layup and was fouled, putting Syracuse up six, and leading to Gavin Edwards fouling out of the game. Syracuse would eventually extend the lead to twelve, before finally winning by ten.
Jim Calhoun could not bring himself to appreciate the game for what it was; quite possibly, the best basketball game every played. In an interview shown on ESPN’s Sportscenter, Calhoun responded to reporters by saying, “We lost the game because we turned the ball over 27 times and couldn’t make a foul shot. It’s a loss. There was something historic about the game, certainly,” Calhoun said. “Both teams competed. Rautins’ big 3, A.J.’s big plays. … I’m sure in the summertime I’ll look back at what a historic battle it was. Right now. It’s a loss. We wanted to play tomorrow night.”
Jim Boeheim, obviously was singing quite a different tune. In the same Sportscenter interview shown on ESPN, Boeheim, who seemed thoroughly exhausted while answer questions said, “I’ve got no words. I’ve never been prouder of any team I’ve coached. It would have been a lot better if they just counted Eric’s shot and we could have gone home 2 hours ago, but that’s the way it goes. I think it’d be hard to top this game.”
No matter what team you are a fan of, there is no denying that last night’s game was an instant classic. If you were lucky enough to watch it live, it will most likely be a game that you will never forget. A group of 18-22 year old kids showed the passion and love of the game that seems to be nonexistent at the NBA level. Whenever an argument is made at work, a bar, a restaurant, or just in a friendly conversation, about which is better: the NBA or NCAA, run to your TIVO or DVR, and show them this epic battle, and the argument will undoubtedly be over.
Box score: http://espn.go.com/ncb/recap?gameId=290710041