Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Strange Sights At MSG: Remembering The Big East Tournament's Wildest Game EVER

New York City is a place where free spirits roam and visitors from across the waters discover more than meets the eye.

It's a wild, freakish, flavorful, outgoing, melting pot of a city.

It features everything from crossdressers, goths drenched in tattoos, rail-slim hipsters, and people wearing freakish, outlandish outfits for workaday occasions.


Unusual sights surfaced during the epic, six-overtime marathon between longtime Big East blood rivals UConn and Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. Call it "blood feud renewed."

Seldom-used freshman guard Scottie Haralson canned a 12-foot jumper to keep UConn's hopes alive with 36 ticks remaining in the FIFTH overtime and Syracuse walk-on Justin Thomas (who played all of 21 minutes this season before being thrust to the pressure-mounting minutes) was inserted after Eric Devendorf caught his final foul.

The would-be hero was relegated to the role of spectator, opening the door for the benchwarmer.

With all the composure and balls in the world, DEVO canned a potential game-winning buzzer-beater (of the century) at the end of regulation.

After reviweing the shot however, it was ruled that DEVO's trey splashed the nylon after the buzzer had sounded. Boy did this pulsating sequence have a flair for the dramatic.

Remember that?

With Gavin Edwards smothering him, Devendorf buried an off-balance 3-pointer that appeared to have beaten the buzzer, sending the arena into a frenzy.

Thinking he had just won the game (as did many of the bi-partisan 19,375 in attendance), DEVO drank in the moment.

The Oak Hill product jumped onto the scorers table, charging up the Syracuse loyalists and putting the rowdy Husky faithful on mute for the moment.

Their hearts beating relentlessly with adrenaline, the Orange retreated to the bench. Six overtimes later, they had done the unthinkable. The weary winners gutted out a 127-117 upset of UConn.

College kids (who, after sitting through the early morning mudfight were actually sober) pouring out of the World's Most Famous Arena in the wee hours?

Strange sights.

One strange no-sight was the invisible lid on the basket.

This round, vindictive lid prevented UConn from draining any clutch free throws.

The Huskies faltered under the teeth-cutting pressure, hitting a meager 24-for-42 (57.1 percent) from the charity stripe.

This stained UConn's chances of pulling away. They failed to seal the deal, close the door, bury the hatchet.

Thus, they ended up selling the store.

Jeff Adrien, the high-energy forward who had been a catalyst all season long, missed a pair of crucial freebies. Moments later, Adrien clanked away a jumper that would have done the Orange in.

Now, don't get it twisted.

Adrien has never been recognized for his free throw shooting prowess (he's a career 50 percent FT shooter). But at this crucial transition you would expect the big behemoth to "be a senior" and define the moment.

If you thought any of the above was unusual, well just consider this:

Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku, an abysmal free throw shooter who had connected on one of his last 19 attempts at the line, was sent to the charity stripe after drawing a foul on Kemba Walker with 2:04 remaining in regulation.

The Syracuse fan base collectively held their breath, crossed their fingers, and prayed for the Brick Laying big to rise to the occasion.

With the way Syracuse had been patrolling the paint, they hoped they could be fortunate enough to get a putback (that is, if air ball specialist AO manages to scrape a piece of the rim this time).

With the pressure beginning to avalanche, AO--who played hurt when UConn wasted Syracuse back on Feb. 11--calmly sank both free throws to give Cuse a 66-64 edge.

One of the most unsightly aspects of the night, however, was the eruption of Stanley "Sticks" Robinson.

How do you define Sticks Robinson? Inconsistent, erratic, feast-or-famine, more likely to deliver a top-ten play (with a wowing, gravity-defying dunk) then a crucial bucket.

Robinson, whose athletic prowess and offensive arsenal was finally pushed to the forefront, dropped 28 points and pulled down 14 boards.

The kid who had been invisible at times this season had been averaging just 6.1 points and three rebounds.

The 6-foot-9 wunderkind flourished on the big stage, dropping jaws with finesse dunks.

Robinson also showed good life on his mid-range game and hit a mammoth three-pointer with 1:37 remaining in the first overtime.

Strange sights indeed.

Leading up to that shot, Robinson had been a putrid 1-for-16 from downtown. The timely trey had UConn clinging to a four-point lead, but Syracuse counterpunched.

Andy Rautins drilled a monster three-pointer.

Rautins was a three-point assassin on this night. He canned six treys, including the go-ahead trifecta in the sixth overtime, to help lead Syracuse to the historic win.

Though Rautins had put on similar sizzling three-point shows against DePaul, Syracuse, and Villanova, this was the mohawked man's signature performance.

Oh, what a night.

In the 30-year history of the Big East tournament, no game was longer. It exceeded the triple-overtime championship thriller in 1981 between Villanova and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

Leo Rautins, Andy's father, was the MVP of that supreme dogfight. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Another strange sight at the Garden was Paul Harris missing a number of layups, including a trio--a la Charles Smith during the Knicks/Bulls heated early 90s playoff battle.

But Paul atoned for his gaffes with 1) a major putback of his own miss and 2) clutch free throw shooting that helped cement some much-needed closure to perhaps one of the greatest NCAA games of all time.

So, the Madison Square Garden ghost that's haunted UCONN't win here since 2006 was back, giving a visibily disappointed (not to mentioned physically and emotionally drained) Calhoun more nightmares.

"Our Big East season is over," said Calhoun before a room of beat, shot, and half-alive reporters in the wee hours of the morning.

"Quite frankly, I can’t wait to get the hell out of it, right now. I would like to be (playing tonight), but not playing the same teams, maybe playing a different style."

He continued,

"We had a lot of opportunities to close the door, make a final shot, make a stop, and we weren’t able to do that. I can think of about six different times that we either had the lead or had a chance to take the lead in the overtimes, and we found ways not to do that and Syracuse found ways to win the game."

Jim Boeheim, of course, was singing a different tune.

"I've never been as proud of a team as I am tonight," Boeheim told ESPN. ""It’s a lot better to win the greatest game ever played."

-Craig Austrie entered the game mired in the worst shooting funk of his career. But the UConn senior showed his poise and mental toughness as the game hit it's late stages.

Austrie connected on two titanic three-point bombs and sank two clutch free throws. That, quite frankly, was all he did.

Austrie, who briefly started for the 2005-06 UConn team loaded with NBA talent, shot a putrid 2-for-13.

The product of Trinity Catholic in Stamford, Conn., put up a wild prayer with time winding down. The off-balance shot fell short, but Thabeet kept it alive. The ball ended up in Kemba Walker's hands, and Walker banked a layup. What a sequence.

After Austrie sold the pharmacy, Walker came up with the bail-out money. This ended up sending the game into overtime (after Devendorf's trey was waived off).

-Syracuse forward Rick Jackson got free for a dunk that helped send the game into a second overtime after Sticks Robinson hit just 1-of-2 at the foul line.

An irate Calhoun called out Hasheem Thabeet in a face-to-face episode.

Thabeet had apparently lost Jackson on the play.

NBA ready? In this year's draft, who isn't?