…but the game was far from over.
Replays revealed that the ball was still in Devendorf's hand as time expired. That was the beginning of what would become an instant classic between these two rivals. Early on, it had the makings of a close one as neither team really had control of the first half. The largest lead any team held was five points, after SU's Andy Rautins knocked down a trey from the outside. But the Huskies battled back and recaptured the lead and led 37-34 at the half.
Connecticut led as it shot over fifty percent from the field and got eleven points from both A.J. Price and Stanley Robinson. Head coach Jim Calhoun was not expecting that production from Robinson who only averages six points a game. But the forward had a huge impact on the game with his length and slashing ability.
In the second half, Syracuse went six minutes without scoring a basket. Yet it only trailed by four when Johnny Flynn scored with just over twelve minutes to go in regulation. With just under eight minutes left, Rautins drained another three-pointer to help SU seize control of the game with the score 54-51.
Syracuse held the lead, going up by as many as seven with the clock ticking down. But the Huskies made the first of many comebacks, scratching their way to a tie as guard Kemba Walker scooped up a loose ball and layed it in with under two seconds remaining. Then Devendorf's miraculous three at the buzzer was waived off.
At this point, the Orange was led by Devendorf and Flynn who had nineteen and seventeen points respectively. But SU couldn't keep Robinson quite as he again scored eleven points in the second half for a total of 22. Also, driving the lane was hazardous as co-Big East Player of the Year Hasheem Thabeet controlled the paint. The Tanzanian center ended regulation with thirteen points, fourteen rebounds, and five blocks.
The fans at the Garden were excited to see overtime, but they never would've guessed they'd see six of them. In the first, UConn built a four point lead with less than two minutes left. Rautins though, let one fly from downtown and drained it to bring SU to within one. After a Robinson free throw made it a two point game, Flynn drove down the court, into the lane, and dished it off to Rick Jackson who slammed it home to knot it up at 81. Walker's heave from half court clanked off the back iron and fell harmlessly to the floor for the Huskies.
Walker though hit a jumper to begin the second overtime, but Jackson had another jam to tie the game for the ‘Cuse. The Orange lost Kristof Ongenaet as he fouled out, but SU held off the Huskies' last second attempts to send the game into a third overtime.
Prior to this game, the only other Big East Tournament game to last this long was in 1981. That's when the Orange defeated Villanova 83-80 in triple overtime to win the Big East Championship. But this one was just getting started. UConn held six point leads at two occasions in this extra period. With two minutes left, SU battled back. Paul Harris, who spent a lot of time next to head coach Jim Boeheim during regulation, made two straight baskets to make it a one possession game. Price missed a free throw, which opened the door again for the Orange and Rautins took advantage. Coming off a screen, the Jamesville-DeWitt grad buried a three from NBA range to tie it at 98. The Huskies though had time to get two shots off, but neither went down.
Price, who missed the first shot in those final seconds of the previous OT, scored four points in the fourth extra period. But it wasn't enough as Devendorf's layup tied the game again at 104 apiece. No team scored for about the final two minutes of that overtime, but the closing seconds were frenetic. Rautins took down the board, dished to Flynn in transition who drew the attention of UConn defenders. He then found Harris waiting on the baseline who took a giant step, one dribble, and then went up for the game winning lay-up. Off the glass and no good, then Harris grabbed the rebound and had his shot blocked and the buzzer sounded.
Once again, Price scored four points in the fifth overtime to give UConn a four point advantage. But his counterpart Flynn was up to the task. The sophomore scored all six of SU's points in the period, including clutch free throws with twenty seconds left to even the score at 110-all. The Huskies' Jeff Adrien had a clean look on the baseline, but his off-balanced jumper bounced off the rim and Kemba Walker fell in a heap as yet another overtime awaited.
A familiar pattern developed over all these overtimes. Connecticut would win the opening tip and score the first basket to take the lead. But every time it seemed the Huskies had delivered the knockout punch, the Orange regained its footing and countered with body blows of its own. Syracuse never held a lead in the first five overtimes. But that all changed as Rautins curled in and used a screen to tickle the twine and give the ‘Cuse its first lead in the opening seconds of the sixth overtime.
The Orange would not give up the lead as Harris scored ten points in the period to get Syracuse over the hump. Harris ended up with 29 points and 22 rebounds for the game, but 22 of those points came in the extra sessions. He missed a number of easy layups, but came up big in what would eventually be the final overtime.
Some other observations from Syracuse's 127-117(6 OT) win over Connecticut:
· This is the game every Orange fan has been waiting for. While no one could imagine it coming in six overtimes, SU finally showed the one quality it seemed to be lacking. Heart. When the Orange was down by six points in overtime, it seemed like it was over. But SU just kept playing and doing whatever it took to win. Tonight was the night this group of players really became a team.
· What more can be said about Johnny Flynn? With the bright lights shining, Flynn's been absolutely brilliant. He played 67 minutes out of a possible 70, scoring 34 points and dishing out 11 assists for his second consecutive double-double in as many nights.
· Syracuse shot 40-of-51 from the charity stripe in this game. Flynn made all sixteen of his attempts. Talk about clutch. With the game on the line and fatigue setting in, the Orange knocked down the freebies.
· How about Kris Joseph and Justin Thomas coming off the bench cold and making an effort to help in the victory. It was truly a sight to see and a something Thomas probably thought never would happen in his wildest dreams. Playing against UConn in a Big East Tournament game at Madison Square Garden.
Syracuse (25-8) has won six games in a row. Now it tries to get some rest before it faces West Virginia in the Big East semi-finals. Game time is set for 9 p.m. on ESPN.