On this day 10 years ago, the six overtime thriller between No. 20 Syracuse and No. 4 Connecticut in in the Big East Men’s Tournament Quarterfinals finally ended a 1:22 a.m. Eastern Time after beginning late in the evening of March 12.
The Orange outlasted their hated Huskies, 127-117, in the second-longest NCAA Division-I game ever played. The box score showed some ridiculous stat lines by the end of the night, like Syracuse junior forward Paul Harris’s 29 points and 22 rebounds, 10 of those offensive, and five different Connecticut players nabbing double-digit boards.
“I’ve got no words,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said after the game. “I’ve never been prouder of any team I’ve ever coached.”
Back and forth the two teams went, both with opportunities to win the game at the end of regulation and multiple overtimes.
Syracuse led, 71-69, with the shot clock turned off and the ball in Connecticut’s hands at the end of regulation. The Huskies got a few looks at the basket that clanked off the iron until the ball fell right to freshman guard Kemba Walker on the block, and he put the ball off the glass and in to tie the game with 1.1 seconds to play.
The Orange called timeout, and after Boeheim drew up a play, walked back onto the court. The ball was thrown to the opposite three-point line and went through a pair of hands before falling perfectly to Syracuse junior guard Eric Devendorf. As quickly as he could, he launched the rock to the rim and found nothing but net. He pounced upon the scorer’s table to engage his witnessed, and his teammates poured from the court and bench to surround him in jubilance.
Officials reviewed the play and concluded Devendorf did not get the shot off in time, sending the two teams to what they couldn’t have known would be the first of six overtimes.
At the end of the first overtime, Connecticut led 81-79. With time ticking inside 10 seconds, Syracuse sophomore guard Jonny Flynn drove the lane and handed it off to trailing sophomore forward Rick Jackson, who slammed it home to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.
In the third overtime, the Huskies held a 98-95 advantage with under 20 seconds remaining. Syracuse junior guard Andy Rautins came off a screen and nailed a triple with 11.7 seconds left in the period to tie the game. A couple missed on the other end meant a fourth overtime was incoming.
“Oh! How good is this!” Bill Raftery, the color commentator for the game exclaimed in a fashion only he could muster.
At the end of the fourth overtime, Harris had two opportunities in close within the final five seconds to break the 104-104 tie and give Syracuse the win, but neither fell inside the rim as Harris sat wanting on the floor beneath the cylinder. Another chance at a buzzer beater missed for Connecticut at the end of the fifth overtime, and the two teams were sent into yet another five-minute period.
Finally, a team pulled away, with a Rautins triple four seconds into the sixth overtime giving Syracuse the final lead of the game. By the end of it all, both teams were left hunched over and panting for air, trying to process what they’d all just been a part of.
“I just wanted to get the game over with,” Flynn said after the game. “I was thinking, ‘Lord, just get this game over with. Whoever wins this game, let’s just get it over with.’”
2009 Big East Tournament: Syracuse would go on to lose in the tournament championship to No. 5 Louisville, 76-66, two days later. The Orangemen somehow found enough legs to win yet another overtime game the day after the quarterfinals, this time with only one five-minute period required, in a 74-69 win over West Virginia, who had pulled off a shocking upset of No. 2 Pittsburgh in the game before the Syracuse-Connecticut dogfight.
2008-09 Syracuse: The team finished the season 28-10 (11-7) and sixth in the Big East. It earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament and faced off with No. 14 seed and Southland champions Stephen F. Austin in the first round. Syracuse dealt with the Lumberjacks 59-44 to move on to the second round to face No. 6 seed Arizona State. A 78-67 win earned Syracuse a date in the Sweet 16 with No. 2 seed Oklahoma, but the run ended there with an 84-71 defeat ending the Orangemen’s season. Flynn led the team in points (17.4 per game) and assists (6.7 per game), while Harris was the squad’s leading rebounder (8.1 per game). Flynn, Rautins, junior center Arinze Onuaku and freshman forward Kris Joseph would go on to play in the NBA.
2008-09 Connecticut: The Huskies went 31-5 (15-3) and ended third in the Big East. They were the No. 1 seed in the West Region of the 2009 NCAA Tournament and cruised to the Sweet 16 with a 103-47 win in the first round against No. 16 seed and SoCon representative Chattanooga and a 92-66 victory in the second round over No. 9 seed Texas A&M. Connecticut next topped No. 5 Purdue in the Sweet 16, 72-60, before No. 3 seed Missouri put up a better fight in the Elite Eight before ultimately falling to the top seed 82-75. UConn’s run ended in the Final Four, though, as Kalin Lucas and No. 2 seed Michigan State pulled away in the final seven minutes of the game to win, 82-73. Senior guard A.J. Price was Connecticut’s leading scorer (14.7 per game) and assiter (4.7 per game), while junior center Hasheem Thabeet led the charge on the glass (10.8 rebounds per game). Price, Thabeet, Walker, senior forward Jeff Adrien and junior guard Jerome Dyson would all feature later in the NBA.