Why do people watch sports? Is it for the competition, seeing who can outlast their opponent punch for punch, stride for stride, shot for shot and come out the other side victorious? Is it team identification and loyalty to your school, town, or community? Or is it for the entertainment value, knowing that something incredible can happen on any given night? Well on the night of March 12, 2009 sport fans got their money’s worth when they tuned in to ESPN to watch the 2009 Big East Men’s Basketball Championship quarterfinal game between the Syracuse Orange and the Connecticut Huskies. Little did fans know that 3 hours and 46 minutes and 6 overtimes later they would have just witnessed one of the best games in basketball history.
This was a college basketball game that featured future NBA players Jonny Flynn (Rockets) for Syracuse, A.J. Price (Pacers) and Kemba Walker (Bobcats) for the Huskies, along with eventual NBA Developmental League players Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Stanley Robinson for UConn and Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf for the Orange. Needless to say there was a ton of talent on the floor that night. Fans who packed Madison Square Garden and the thousands watching at home were not disappointed to witness the longest game in the shot clock era of college basketball. And when that final buzzer sounded nearly 4 hours after tip-off Syracuse had earned the victory 127-117.
Led by 34 points from Jonny Flynn along with 29 from Paul Harris, 22 from Eric Devendorf and 20 from Andy Rautins off the bench Syracuse was finally able to pull away in the 6th overtime. The Huskies were led by 33 points from A.J. Price, 28 from Stanley Robinson and 19 from center Hasheem Thabeet. A young Kemba Walker only recorded 8 points on 4-18 shooting in a game he will surely remember for the rest of his basketball career.
The most dramatic game in Big East history almost ended in regulation. Almost. With the score tied at 71, Eric Devendorf, one of ‘Cuse best shooters, knocked down a three pointer over the outstretched arm of Gavin Edwards with no time left on the clock. The officials went to the scorer’s table to review the play and they made the correct call to wave off the basket and end regulation in a draw. Nobody knew what treat they were in for over the next hour and a half.
The Huskies took an early lead in the first overtime and behind six points from Stanley Robinson held the lead for most of the first extra session. The Orange had no quit in them that day though and after a huge three by Andy Rautins and an improbable dunk by Rick Jackson the game went into double overtime tied at 81.
The second and third overtime were more of the same tough battle. Neither team was able to pull away and after a Kemba Walker half court heave the game went into the third OT. In that 3rd session the Huskies were able to build a six point lead, the largest since overtime began, but over the final 1:46 the Orange were able to tie it up for the 17th time of the game after another Rautins three. A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien were not able to capitalize on their chances to win it in the final seconds and the game headed for a fourth OT.
Defense dominated the fourth extra session, and the headline of the period was Hasheem Thabeet fouling out just over a minute into the overtime. Thabeet was not alone in that statistic as 8 players fouled out of this epic game, 4 from each team. Neither team scored over the final 1:50 of the 4th OT either.
The 5th overtime began after 1 AM eastern time at Madison Square Garden and fatigue started to set in on both sides. Players from both teams began to be disqualified with foul trouble, and with just over 30 seconds left in the 5th Uconn reserve forward Scottie Haralson put the Huskies up by 2. This lead did not last long though as Jonny Flynn nailed some ice water freethrows with 20 seconds left to establish the 20th deadlock of the game at 110 a piece. This would be the score heading into the final dramatic session.
Entering the 6th overtime made this game the longest overtime game in each school’s history. Syracuse seemed to have the fresher legs after the first 25 minutes of extra time, and again Andy Rautins became the hero hitting a three from just inside NBA range to start the final period. This was Syracuse first lead of any overtime session and they never looked back. The Orange were able to build a 10 point lead in the period and went on to win the game 127-117 in what will be remembered as one of the greatest games in basketball history and will live on in Big East Tournament history forever.
Games like this one are why people love sports they way they do. This game had the drama, the world class competition, and thrilling action that kept you on the edge of your seat. If you didn’t get goosebumps watching this game then you must really hate basketball and athletics in general. This is one of those games that ESPN Classic was made for.
And guess what sports fans: it could happen again! Uconn and Syracuse tip off today in just a couple short hours, meeting again, this time in the 2012 Big East Championship quarterfinals back at Madison Square Garden. With this game be as epic as what happened 3 years ago, probably not, but the only way to find out is to watch!