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COMMENTARY

Six-overtime game is basketball at its best

Syracuse survives a New York marathon.

March 14, 2009|Jeff Jacobs

NEW YORK — It was long past midnight, headed for 2 a.m., when Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn sat on the podium and gave some thought to his lower appendages.

"I can't even feel my legs right now," Flynn said.

Flynn had played 67 minutes in the longest game in Big East Conference history, a tournament quarterfinal that had begun at 9:36 p.m. Thursday, ended at 1:22 a.m. Friday and provided 3 hours and 46 minutes of most remarkable college basketball.

Syracuse outlasted UConn, 127-117, in sextuple overtime at Madison Square Garden. Sextuple is one of those words you figure shouldn't be used without parental discretion, but six overtimes is what was needed for the Orange to ultimately defeat the Huskies.

This one lasted so long, you swore Jerome Dyson had time enough to rehab from his knee surgery and score the winning basket.

Arms turned to lead. Heads were dulled by fatigue. Hearts were willing, yet they had stopped pounding with the sort of excitement that makes young men able to jump through the roof during the much-anticipated trip to the World's Most Famous Arena.

And legs? Well, Flynn couldn't feel his anymore. He played the sixth overtime without his headband. So frustrated at the end of the fifth overtime, he had thrown it into the crowd. Or maybe his head was just too tired to hold it up.

So they pressed on for the second-longest known game in Division I history. Goats became heroes. Heroes became goats. Baskets saved one team from sure defeat. Blown shots stopped the other team from sure victory.

They may not have been able to feel their legs, but you couldn't help but feel great for college basketball, feel that something very special had unraveled in front of your eyes.

The word epic rushes to mind. Yes, this was an epic game.

"We lost this game because we had turned the ball over 27 times and couldn't make a foul shot," Coach Jim Calhoun said after the Huskies had made only 24 of 42 free throws.

After Kemba Walker tied the score with 1.1 seconds left in regulation, Paul Harris' court-long pass was tipped by Gavin Edwards into the hands of Eric Devendorf. The shot was as clutch as they come. Devendorf got it over Edwards hands and, swish! Syracuse wanted it to count. Syracuse fans wanted it to count. Devendorf jumped on the scorer's table in celebration.

Only it didn't count. The officials examined the monitor with a surgeon's care. The replay didn't lie. The ball was still on Devendorf's finger tips as the clock hit 00.0.

"If they just counted Eric's shot, we could have gone home two hours ago," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said.

So they pressed on.

"I've got no words to even try to describe it," Boeheim said. "I've never been prouder of any team I've ever coached. You get involved after 30 some years and thousands of games, there are a lot of games in there that are pretty memorable, but I think it would be hard to top this game."

Who can say exactly where the game ranks among the greatest played in college basketball? Who can say exactly where it ranks among the greatest played at Madison Square Garden? Yet be sure of this much, it's in the conversation.

Flynn dished back to Rick Jackson for the slam to tie the score with 4.7 seconds left in the first overtime. After a decent look from the top of the key by Flynn missed, Walker's desperation three at the end of the second OT almost went in and . . . didn't. After UConn took a six-point lead in the third overtime, Andy Rautins came off a screen and hit a remarkable three with 11.7 seconds to tie the score. ESPN showed old footage of Andy's dad, Leo, tipping in the game-winning basket in triple-OT -- the previous longest Big East tournament game -- to beat Villanova in the 1981 title game. There was lineage involved, there was legacy and that made it all the cooler.

Syracuse didn't have a lead in overtime until the sixth OT, but after Hasheem Thabeet fouled out in the fourth OT, you had the inkling this might not turn out well for the Huskies.

Harris, after blowing a slew of layups, scored 10 points in the sixth overtime to finally win it.

UConn will still have its chance to win it all. But this night belonged to history. And a loss may be a loss, but sometimes an epic battle means much more. And this was one of those times.

--

jjacobs@courant.com

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