On March 12, 2009, a game that I along with many Syracuse fans will never forget occurred at Madison Square Garden. It was the Big East tournament, pinning a matchup between arch rivals Syracuse and Connecticut, two Hall of Fame coaches named Jim and plenty of drama. Six overtimes of drama, that is.
On this day five years ago the Orange outlasted the Huskies in an epic battle, 127-117. The game was close throughout, with UConn taking a 37-34 lead into halftime and the Orange winning the second half by that same score to force the first overtime. The game itself took 3 hours and 46 minutes to complete and was 70 game minutes long. Jonny Flynn, a sophomore at the time for the Orange, led all scorers with 34 points and played in 67 of 70 minutes.
Everybody probably remembers the most iconic image of the game, when Orange guard Eric Devendorf made a three at the end of regulation that looked to be released before the buzzer went off. He jumped onto the scorers table and celebrated with his teammates what they thought was a victory, but after review the it was ruled the ball was on the tip of his fingers as the buzzer sounded and the game went to its first overtime. Little did we know that there would be a long night ahead of us.
Both teams had multiple opportunities to win in overtime, Arinze Onuaku fouled out in the second overtime, UConn seven-footer Hasheem Thabeet fouled out in the fourth and Syracuse forward Kris Joseph, a freshman at the time, had to play center when then sophomore Rick Jackson fouled out in the fourth extra period. Even Syracuse walk-on Justin Thomas played seven minutes. As the players got even more tired, the game wouldn’t end and Paul Harris couldn’t even make a layup in the fourth overtime, missing on a couple of chances to end the game right near the rim as time was expiring.
In every overtime, Orange fans were dealing with the nerves from being behind, as their team didn’t take a lead in overtime until the sixth and final one, where they pulled away from the Huskies behind an Andy Rautins three to start the last period. Rautins, Flynn, Harris and Devendorf all scored over 20 points for the Orange and they shot 39-103 as a team (37.9 percent). The Huskies were led by Stanley Robinson (28 points) and A.J. Price (33 points) and on 106 shots they shot 40.6 percent from the field. That is a lot of shots.
It was a game I know I will never forget and the effort by both teams and their players was remarkable. This was one of many great Big East tournament games we had the privilege of seeing over the years, and it will be strange to see both of these teams competing in two different conference tournaments this year.