NEW YORK – The Syracuse team bus pulled up to its hotel at 2:33 a.m. ET, and off slunk the most exhausted, yet exhilarated, college students in America.
They were dead-legged and dazed and not really sure of what they actually had just done – emerge victorious from perhaps the greatest non-NCAA tournament college basketball game ever.
Across six overtimes, over 70 game minutes and 3:46 of actual time, with heartache and headache and history, Syracuse outlasted Connecticut 127-117.
Here were these two big programs, these two star-studded lineups, these two Hall of Fame coaches, in the world's most famous arena, putting together a night of magic to remind the country why March after March college basketball sucks us in.
And after the roar in exhausted Madison Square Garden had subsided, here was Jonny Flynn wondering if he was going to get a sandwich from an all-night deli. A couple of teammates wanted McDonald's. Syracuse managers were scrambling everywhere – even in Manhattan it isn't easy finding food for an entire team at this time of night.
Inside the numbers
• 6: Overtime periods, tied for second-most in Division I history.
• 3:46: Length of game.
• 67: Minutes Syracuse's Jonny Flynn played (out of 70).
• 88: Percentage the Orange shot from the free-throw line (23-for-26) in overtime. Syracuse was 17-for-25 (68 percent) in regulation.
• 244: Total points scored, a Big East tournament record. Previous mark was 189, a double-OT game in 1998 between Pitt and Villanova.
• 102: Overtime points scored, an NCAA record, as was Syracuse's 56 points in OT.
• 8: Players who fouled out.
• 5: UConn players with 10 or more rebounds. Syracuse had one.
• Box score
Jim Boeheim greeted a small cadre of well-wishers in the lobby and then declared he was going right to bed. Assistant coach Mike Hopkins had no such luxury – he was seeking a still-open Starbucks to save him as he watched game tape of West Virginia, the well-rested opponent waiting later Friday in the Big East semifinals.
For Syracuse, in the city that never sleeps, everyone but Hopkins would.
If the physical challenge wasn't enough to wear them down, it was the emotional drain of a back-and-forth-and-back-again marathon.
The Orange thought they had it won at the end of regulation, only to see the referees rule that the potential game winner came too late. Then they never led in any of the first five overtimes yet refused to be defeated.
Only once had a college game gone longer, a seven-overtime Cincinnati victory over Bradley back in 1981. Only two other times had anyone seen six extra sessions, both back in the 1950s.
This was one of those special nights in sports, the unexpected genius of competition that causes friends to text each other wondering if they're watching, that left a million workers bleary-eyed Friday morning because there just was no way to turn this one off until 1:22 a.m. ET brought the final buzzer.
In the end, it was a couple of kids from Niagara who wouldn't fall – Syracuse's Jonny Flynn had 34 points in 67 minutes; and his friend and teammate Paul Harris had 29 points and 22 rebounds.
Everyone else delivered a testament to will and heart and the forever legs of youth. The 'Cuse gutted it out thanks to just 16 turnovers and a 40-of-51 effort at the free-throw line, unheard-of numbers considering the fatigue.
"I have never been prouder of a team than I am tonight," said Boeheim, who has coached a national champion. "They just kept fighting, hanging in there and toughing it out and fighting."
The near-misses alone will go down in history. There was Syracuse's Eric Devendorf and his not-quite-buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of regulation. There was UConn's Kemba Walker and a desperation heave at the end of the second OT that clanked away. Then there was his teammate Jeff Adrien's baseline-jumper near-miss at the end of overtime No. 5.
"It would have been a lot better if they just counted Eric's shot and we could have gone home two hours ago," Boeheim said.
Maybe for Boeheim, but not everyone else who needed a shot in the arm of college basketball greatness.
UConn eventually had almost no one left, courtesy of four players fouling out (SU lost four of its own). The Orange's game plan included getting UConn big man Hasheem Thabeet in foul trouble.
"It took a day and a half, but we did it," Hopkins joked.
Both sides were forced to go deep to the bench, finding walk-ons and little-used reserves to make big shots and key rebounds.
The Huskies' Donnell Beverly grabbed his first rebound since January. SU's Justin Thomas did him even better, getting his first board of the entire season.
The Garden, which has seen so many legendary performances, never had seen anything quite like this. Put Flynn, the impossible-to-stop point guard, down with the all-time legends of the building.
By the time he got back to the hotel, he wasn't thinking about history, just some food and sleep. Even for college kids, this was late.
"I can't even feel my legs right now," Flynn said.
Not that he had stopped smiling.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun didn't look as enthused. He claimed he personally wasn't tired and was ready to run a free-throw shooting practice (UConn missed 18 of them). He may have ditched the team bus and forced the Huskies to run back to Storrs.
"We lost the game because we turned the ball over 27 times and couldn't make a foul shot," Calhoun grumbled.
At some point, perhaps, he'll appreciate being a part of such an historic night; or maybe not.
"It's always better to win the greatest game ever played," Boeheim said.