Third Place: Six Overtimes
The 2009 Connecticut Huskies were a great team in a great conference. Ranked third in the country entering the Big East Tournament, they just missed out on a share of the regular season conference title with a road loss to #2 Pitt on the last day of the year. Regular season champ Louisville (ranked fifth due to a couple non-conference neutral court losses) and #10 Villanova made four Big East teams in the AP top ten. Led on offense by sweet-shooting point guard A.J. Price and double-double man Jeff Adrien, the Huskies also had Hasheem Thabeet prowling the paint with 4.2 blocks per game. Despite losing Jerome Dyson with a knee injury midway through the year, UConn had more than enough weapons to go all the way.
The Syracuse Orange entered the Big East Tournament as the sixth seed. Ranked 18th in the country but stuck in the tournament's Wednesday night matchup, they looked to regain a little bit of the home-state magic that carried Gerry McNamara and Co. to back-to-back titles a few years prior. It would be sophomore Jonny Flynn's last year with the program, but the sixth most efficient offense in the country featured a balanced attack with five guys averaging double-figures. The Orange struggled through the middle of their conference schedule, but won their last four games en route to an 11-7 conference record and high hopes for the Garden.
Syracuse's 89-74 second round victory over Seton Hall provided a good prelude for the drama that would unfold the next night. It was a chippy affair, with two technicals registered for each team, but Flynn and Eric Devendorf led the way with 19 points each to wrap up a 53 point second half and comfortable victory. The next night wouldn't be nearly as easy.
Tipping a little after 9:30 for a game that would last almost four hours, Syracuse and Connecticut traded leads throughout regulation before a young Kemba Walker put back Craig Austrie's jumper for the Huskies to tie the game at 71 with 1.1 seconds remaining. Kemba would put his mark in Big East lore a couple years later, but not tonight.
Paul Harris' inbounds pass to Eric Devendorf gave Syracuse a chance to win the game in regulation. Devendorf's three appeared to beat the buzzer, setting off summersaults for Otto and a table climb for one of the least likeable characters in conference history. But the basketball gods (or Buffalo Wild Wings) were not quite done with this one, and the referees signaled no basket. Cue OT number one.
After UConn's Stanley Robinson made one of two free throws to extend the Husky lead to 81-79, Jonny Flynn quickly set up Rick Jackson for a game-tying dunk to extend the game again and keep Syracuse's hopes alive. In the second overtime, Connecticut failed to convert on three consecutive offensive rebounds in their penultimate possession with the game tied at 87. OT #3 saw the Huskies miss another late free throw (this time by A.J. Price) with a chance to ice the contest. Flynn dished out another assist, this time to Andy Rautins for the game-tying three.
Dead legs held down scoring in the next two extra periods, with each team only picking up six points in the fourth and fifth overtimes. By the end four players for each team had fouled out (including Devendorf for Syracuse and Thabeet for the Huskies), creating an opportunity for lesser known reserves to play hero. Little-used Scottie Haralson (4.1 minutes per game) knocked down a jumper in the fifth OT to give Connecticut a two-point lead. However, Flynn responded with all of Syracuse's six points in the second to last period, forcing a sixth and final overtime to kill Connecticut's hopes for good.
After missing out on chance after chance in the first five overtimes, Connecticut's tired legs finally gave way. Paul Harris scored ten points in the final period to led Syracuse on a 13-2 run that ended any thoughts of a Husky comeback. In the end, it was 127-117 Syracuse in 6OT with Jim Boeheim proclaiming that he'd never been prouder in his coaching career. Flynn scored 34 and was perfect from the foul line on 16 attempts. Harris added 29 with 22 rebounds. He had double-digits just on the offensive glass. In a losing effort, the Huskies still had four guys record double-doubles with A.J. Price scoring 33 points.
Syracuse would make the finals two nights later, but not before knocking off West Virginia in yet another overtime matchup. Connecticut rebounded to make the Final Four in Detroit, losing to Michigan State in the national semifinals.