Saturday, March 12, 2011

March 12, 2009: Period 8

NEW YORK - The game kept going and going. One overtime period led to another, to the point where many people watching eventually forgot what period number they were on. Was that five overtimes? Six? How were the players doing it?

The answer to that last question was barely. They were all dragging, finishing the game on pure will and not much else. The lucky ones might have been the eight players - four from each team - who fouled out. They got a chance to rest.

When Connecticut's Kemba Walker scored on an offensive rebound to tie the Big East Quarterfinal game at 71 with 1.1 seconds left, it set things up for a dramatic finish. Syracuse responded with a long pass to half court that was tipped to Eric Devendorf, who drained the 3-pointer while the buzzer was sounding. While Syracuse celebrated, the officials checked the replay and determined that his shot had come just moments after the buzzer sounded. No good.

Nobody had any idea then exactly what that decision would lead to.

Connecticut quickly went up by five in the first overtime before Syracuse rallied to tie the game. Walker, the hero of regulation, had a 3-pointer for the win but missed, sending the game to a second oertime. The second overtime had a similar feel, with Connecticut taking the lead, Syracuse fighting back to tie, and Walker missing the potential winning basket. In the third overtime, Connecticut twice had a six-point lead, but Syracuse came back both times, with a 3-pointer by Andy Rautins tying the game with 19 seconds left.

Starting in the fourth overtime, the fatigue started to kick in. Players were dragging themselves up and down the court, were jumping only half as high as they were capable of while going for rebounds, had no strength behind their jumpshots. In fact, nobody scored in the final 1:52 of the fourth overtime. Onto the fifth overtime, and Syracuse's drought continued, as the Orange needed three minutes to score. But, true to form in this game, Syracuse found a way to tie the game and force an unbelievable, unprecedented sixth overtime.

In the sixth overtime, the pattern changed. Instead of Connecticut scoring first, it was Syracuse drawing first blood, with Rautins making a 3 just four seconds after the opening tip. Impossibly, it was Syracuse's first lead since Walker's tip-in at the end of regulation, a basket that at this point seemed to have happened the previous week. That score seemed to provide Syracuse with the energy that both teams sorely needed, and the Orange ran off eight straight points before Connecticut could answer. There would be no comeback this time, and finally, 3 hours and 46 minutes after opening tip, Syracuse had a 127-117 victory.

The final numbers were staggering; nine players reached double figures in scoring, and six reached double figures in rebounds, including five Huskies. But this game was about more than the numbers put up in the box score, but rather the number listed on the big Madison Square Garden scoreboard, underneath the word period: "8." It wasn't the longest game in NCAA history - a seven-overtime game in 1981 held that record - but it was played on national television, in the most prestigious conference tournament in America, in America's most famous basketball arena. It was those factors, and the incredible effort, that made this game one for the ages.

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