I received a text message from my cousin George last night at 12:36 a.m., sometime in the second overtime of the Big East quarterfinals between Connecticut and Syracuse. It read, "This is why we love college hoops." And we still had four overtimes to go.
Syracuse and Connecticut just played the most epic game in the 30-year history of the Big East tournament with a six-overtime, 127-117 thriller in New York City. (It was only the fourth time in NCAA Division I men's basketball history that a game had gone to six overtimes.) There were over a dozen lead changes, at least five separate times that you could confidently count one team out only to have them come back a minute later (usually Syracuse; they got their first overtime lead in the sixth extra session), a controversial overturned buzzer beater, huge shifts in momentum, fatigued bodies splayed across the floor in pursuit of loose balls, an energetic crowd in a basketball mecca, countless missed opportunities for victory as time expired in regulation and five overtimes, two Hall of Fame coaches on the sidelines and Bill Raftery going nuts all the live long while (and even giving a standing ovation when the game was over). It was everything that is perfect about college basketball.
By the end, when the players were well into their fourth half of basketball (the game went for 70 minutes), their legs looked like Jell-O, they were missing easy layups, playing soft defense and, basically, huffing and puffing as if they'd just run a marathon. But it was a beautiful sloppiness. Though the players were exhausted (Jonny Flynn played 67 minutes, five Connecticut players were in for more than 50 minutes) and trying to conserve energy while walking up the court, they still had enough stamina to maintain bursts of energy when they were driving to the basket or springing for offensive rebounds. Many of the big stars fouled out, forcing walk-ons to play their first minutes of the season. Those who were the goats early (Paul Harris) turned into the stars late.
In the grand scheme of things, the end result may not mean much for either school this season. Connecticut will go to the NCAA tournament, probably as a No. 2 seed. Syracuse will play in the NCAAs, but continue its Big East run tonight vs. West Virginia at 9 p.m. when they'll be surely drained from tonight's affair.
That might lead some to say that games like tonight's are irrelevant. That's preposterous. Unless either of these schools cut down the nets in Detroit this April, this six-overtime game is what people are going to be talking about in 25 years. This is the memory. This is why you play the game. These are the highlights they'll be showing for the next few decades. This is why conference tournaments are great. This is why they matter. This is why we love college basketball.