We all knew it was going to be a big night, but nobody could have predicted the way this game was going to end.
March 12, 2009 turned out to be a night full of pure madness, and a night that reminded us how fun and wacky tournaments can get.
Quite simply, it was the BIG EAST at its finest.
The Build Up
It was a big quarterfinal matchup in the BIG EAST tournament in MSG. The BIG EAST Tournament was set to host a big-time quarterfinal matchup. 18th ranked Syracuse was primed to meet 3rd ranked Connecticut, putting one of the best rivalries front and center. The Orange had already played a game in this tournament, having dismissed Seton Hall 86-74. The Huskies, meanwhile, earned themselves a double-bye after a stellar effort in the regular season.
The two teams met prior to the conference tourney on February 11 when UConn, then the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, crushed the Orange 63-49. It was a bad loss for a ranked Syracuse team and everyone knew Jim Boeheim would have his team ready to face the Huskies a second time.
It would be a clash of stars on both sides. Hasheem Thabeet was the main star for UConn as the big men was one of the best in the country. They also had a young talented freshmen named Kemba Walker whose impact to the program would come a few years later. Among those who were also in the mix were A.J. Price, Jeff Adrien, and Jerome Dyson, et al.
Syracuse was led by talented point guard Jonny Flynn, who seemed destined to head to the NBA after this season. They also had a talented scorer in Eric Devendorf, as well as Arinze Onuaku, Andy Rautins and a talented freshman named Kris Joseph, whom a year later would be the BIG EAST's Sixth Man of the Year. Behind Flynn and Devendorf, and their talented role players, the Orange were confident in their ability to get revenge on the Huskies.
It was a tough first half for both teams as UConn led 37-34 after the first 20 minutes. It was a battle for sure, and we all knew a good second half was in store.
But nobody could have predicted what would come next.
Let the madness begin
The teams continued to battle back and forth and Syracuse found itself leading with under a minute left in the game. It all seemed over for UConn, but thanks to some missed free throws and lucky bounces, the Huskies found themselves with the ball looking to tie the game up at 71 with less than 10 seconds left. After Thabeet snatched up a missed shot from Craig Austrie, he was stripped.
The ball rolled towards the baseline and was picked up by Walker. The young point guard then proceeded to make a tough finish with 1.1 seconds left and tie the game up.
But Orange forward Paul Harris picked up the ball after the made basket and heaved a prayer down court. It was deflected and Devendorf found himself with the ball with less than a second left. He left a prayer go from right baseline.
It was madness at the Garden, Syracuse players running around like they had won the tournament, UConn players with hands on their heads. Jim Calhoun looked just as stunned as his players did. Devendorf was losing his mind near the scorers table as he thought he had hit the biggest shot in his college career.
But then came the review.
It looked like he got it off in real time but looking back at it, it seemed that he got the shot off less than a second after the clock hit double zeros. The refs came back, and they made their mind up:
With that, we were headed towards overtime with the Huskies breathing a big sigh of relief and Syracuse wondering what would have happened if Devendorf released the shot a second quicker.
The first few overtimes saw UConn come out guns blazing as they took big leads in OT, but each time, Syracuse came back. In the first overtime it was a Flynn dump-off to Rick Jackson in the lane for a dunk with less than five seconds left to tie the game.
In the third overtime we saw an even better Orange comeback as they came back to tie up the game with 11.7 seconds left on the clock.
The Orange looked to be down and out but thanks to a full court press that led to some turnovers and quick baskets, they had a chance. Then Andy Rautins drilled a 3-pointer falling away to tie the game at 98.
This game seemed like it would never end.
The Huskies suffered a big blow in the fourth overtime when Thabeet fouled out on an offensive foul boxing out. With the best player on the other team out, Syracuse looked to take advantage and they almost won in the fourth OT. Flynn found Paul Harris on the baseline near the basket wide open with five seconds left. Harris went up once and was denied. But he got his own rebound with 2.5 seconds left and tried again.
But again he was denied by UConn.
The clock hit double zeros again and it seemed like the basketball gods did not want this game to end.
The sixth overtime was when the wheels started to fall off for UConn. Syracuse took their first lead in a long time, and never looked back. Thanks to Rautins and Harris, the Orange outscored the Huskies 17-7 in the final period to win the marathon 127-117.
It was finally over.
It look three hours and 46 minutes to complete but it was finally over.
Best BIG EAST game ever?
Syracuse went on to beat West Virginia that same day, but lost to a Louisville team that was just too much for the Orange and wound up becoming the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Flynn and his teammates just looked too gassed to play and nobody is faulting them for that. They essentially played a game and a half more than the Cardinals did.
But even with the loss, the Orange and Huskies knew they took part in what was one of the greatest games in NCAA history and certainly one of the best in the BIG EAST tournament history. ESPN called that game the game of the decade, and they weren't kidding.
It was one of those games you could look back and say, "That's why I love basketball". The madness that ensued in overtime after overtime after after overtime.
It reminded us the aura of the BIG EAST as one of the best basketball conferences and one of the best conference tournaments. The conference that set the standard for college basketball and showed how fun college hoops can get with rivalry games and just pure fun.
Although neither Cuse or UConn are in the BIG EAST anymore, there is no denying their impact on the conference. It's not just this game but everyone will remember them for this game. Years from now there will still be people talking about that six overtime game between UConn and Syracuse.
The game that just wouldn't end.
The game that nobody deserved to lose.