Fans and Players Alike Reflect on the Final Big East Episode of Hoyas-OrangePosted by Nick Fasulo on March 15th, 2013
Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent. He has been at the Big East Tournament this week taking in all of the action. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.
Following their narrow second round victory over Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon, Jim Boeheim was asked if it was fitting that Syracuse was going to have to go through Georgetown in their last go-around of the Big East Tournament. “I don’t know,” Boeheim said. “That’s for you guys to figure out.” The expected curt response was almost like a challenge to the entire press room: You all know the answer, but who will spin that yarn the most eloquently?
Since 1979, at the league’s inception of seven teams, Syracuse and Georgetown have faced each other 90 times, including 14 in the Big East Tournament. Friday night, in the most fitting location, the final face-off for the foreseeable future went down. Syracuse won 58-55 in overtime, a classic match-up that may not carry much meaning in a week, but will mean everything for eternity. But that merely touches on the story, as you could draw a parallel that the Orange ostensibly accomplished what really needed to be accomplished on their trip to New York City: Beat someone you hate, then go proverbially take down the 1980 Finnish National Hockey team.
“I wouldn’t want this any other way,” Jonathan Tomlinkson, an uncle of Hoya guard Markel Starks said before entering Madison Square Garden Friday night. “Syracuse and Georgetown have carried the Big East through the years. These are the two most prominent programs in the conference as we know it.” At 2:00 PM EDT Thursday afternoon, tickets on the secondary market to Friday’s semifinals started at $160 just to get through the turnstyles, according to TiqIQ, a ticket buying intelligence website that tracks the progression of sporting event ticket prices. By then, Georgetown had already advanced to the semifinals, but their opponent had yet to be determined, and it could not be assumed that Syracuse could be penned into the next round to set up the perfect storm. But as the Orange held a lead, almost blew a lead, and eventually downed the Pittsburgh Panthers, the mood swung, and so did the cost to see Session 6.
Heading into dinnertime Thursday, with Syracuse unwinding from its victory, the “get in” price had jumped to $250 for the very same nosebleeds. At the conclusion of the quarterfinals it was $275, and Friday at lunch, it was a minimum of $375 to watch 80 minutes of basketball at Madison Square Garden. Sometimes, you have to pay a pretty penny to witness history.
While the overarching sentiment leading up to the game felt like a bit of doom and gloom, the tension and excitement was palpable, stretching well beyond the streets and alleys that abut Madison Square Garden. Fans of opposing teams gave each other dirty looks as early as 11:00 AM on the 6 train. Alumni jumped out of work early to clash with ticket hawkers. Wall Street bankers made their way to midtown Manhattan just to observe the scene and diehard fans were not shy in expressing their opinion. “It’s a sad day in paradise when Syracuse is no longer in the Big East,” said Tim, a native of Syracuse and life-long fan. I suppose, if paradise is a concrete jungle with temperatures in the low 40s hosting an annual sporting event that displays machismo at its finest. “I have more hatred for [Georgetown] than any other team in college basketball,” says Tim’s friend Darren. “F— them,” Tim jumps in. “The Thompson family is a bunch of s—.”
It is clear that while Georgetown’s Michael Graham once tried to punch a Syracuse player in front of 19,000 people, and many games have been physical, this is a rivalry that is built from the outside in and it’s fueled by the fans love of the game and desire to be at the top of the mountain. “It is more about the fans. Not as much about the players,” says Siri, a Georgetown fan who has attended five Big East Tournaments and brought his six-year old son for the first time. “I mean, yeah you get a couple players… obviously like Eric Devendorf… that rub you in the wrong way but a lot of the hatred is about the fans. They come down from Syracuse [to Washington, D.C.] and the fans around you are cheering and antagonizing you.”
As the actual game started, the primarily pro-Syracuse arena antagonized Georgetown one last time. It was electric, and the energy never dissipated as the world was treated to a classic that served as more than a fitting end to a brutal rivalry with both teams showing their program’s respective true colors. Employing their patented 2-3 zone, the Orange stifled the Hoyas’ offense for most of the game, but the Hoyas toughness allowed them stay within reach, as they chipped away at a double digit deficit by going inside. With 3:45 remaining in the second half, and Syracuse’s advantage whittled down to 47-45, the buzz in the arena was that overtime was inevitable and also fitting.
During the free period of basketball, the majority of MSG was standing, and life or death seemed to hinge on every possession until Syracuse edged it out, highlighted by an emphatic C.J. Fair dunk to all but seal victory. “To me, beating Georgetown outweighs [getting to the final of the Big East Tournament],” said Brandon Triche after the game. “You kinda would have thought we won the championship after we beat Georgetown. But bigger than the rivalry, they beat us by 20 points last time and that hurts… so when you are able to beat a team that beat you by 20, the feeling is great.”
As the game ended, and the reality that these two teams may never again face each other, let alone under the bright lights of the Mecca, reality about the future set in, and how it not only put a halt to all the memorable moments that occurred between these two teams on the court, but also how Syracuse, Georgetown and the Big East as we knew it was an event marked on everyone’s calendars. “Never playing Georgetown again is like, ‘oh my God,’” said Denise Hurt, a Syracuse season ticket holder for the last six years. The finality of the moment stung, but it could not light a candle to the pain felt when asked about her plans for Championship Week in 2014. “Greensboro? Really? What’s in Greensboro? That’s not a vacation. Going to New York City to watch Syracuse play every March is a vacation.”
Needless to say, the ACC has some Big East sized shoes to fill.