Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC Conferences, but he found himself in MSG on Thursday night for the Big East classic between Syracuse and UConn.
NEW YORK CITY – It has been billed a classic. Some are calling it the greatest college basketball game ever. What ever the opinion, the 6 OT UConn-Syracuse marathon was discussed quite frequently on Friday. The game was almost missed by yours truly. In the spring I officiate girls’ lacrosse and had a mandatory state meeting in Millburn, New Jersey. The meeting was set for 6:30 and expected to end at 8 or so. That would allow plenty of time to drive the 24 miles to MSG in non-rush hour traffic. The last game of the night starts around 9:30 so I thought getting to one quarterfinal is better than none.
Our meeting went a little over (I should have known this was an omen), but route 78 and the Lincoln Tunnel cooperated and I was settled in for the roughly 9:35 tip. The nuances and momentum changes, missed free throws and great shots (even the one by Eric Devendorf at the regulation buzzer that didn’t count) are well documented. Some of the behind the scenes stories are worthy of telling.
As the overtimes went on three, four , five, you had an almost surreal feeling that this was normal and would continue. No one went for the exit. The fans with their presence were expending energy and involved in a classic experience of their own. Have work in the a.m.? Hit Starbucks first in full force. The Garden PA system operator had a sense of humor. After each overtime and following the pep band, a song would be played. Selections included After Midnight (Eric Clapton), Wait Till the Midnight Hour (Wilson Pickett), Oh What a Night (Four Seasons) and Late in the Evening (Paul Simon). One more OT we might have heard ‘Tossing and Turning.’
After about 3 OTs a media member gave a thumbs up to official Bob Donato who just smiled as if to say ‘we’re all in this for the duration.’ Good writing friend Jeff Bernstein high fived yours truly after two of the occasions. A former college assistant at NYU, Jeff is a really loving this. Turns out he won’t leave MSG until 3 am, after filing a story.
Before leaving MSG sometime after two I stop by the Syracuse locker room to congratulate good friend and long time Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine. “I don’t know if I should say good game last night or this morning,” I noted. Bernie says, “thanks, you can say both and did you see (West Virginia coach Bob) Huggins? He was by you and left after three overtimes. I bet he was hoping for more,” Fine jokingly added. Friday evening Syracuse beat writer Mike Waters said he didn’t exit the Garden until 3:30. “I still wound up getting up about 9,” Waters said. Bob Trainor, a radio man, left about 4:45 a.m. and there were roughly 7 people left. A number of the Garden press support personnel did not leave until 4. In the post game press conference on Friday Boeheim and Andy Rautins were asked if they were looking for a place to eat, McDonald’s, anywhere. “We looked,” Boeheim said, “but in Syracuse you have places open at 2:30 in the morning. In New York it’s hard to find something open,” he added in jest.
Lou Monaco, who writes for ESPN and the Star-Ledger, covered the early games and had to leave near the end of regulation for his train. Monaco’s train had a 55 minute delay at Secaucus Junction. His cell phone needed to be charged but he could follow the game from passengers on blackberrys. He got to his Summit destination and it was so late the bars were closed. “I could see through the windows of the one bar that the game was going on,” he said. Monaco got in his car drove a few miles to his Springfield home and could still see most of OT number 6.
Good writing friend Jack Stycznski has a blog for the New York Times. Jack was seated next to me the whole game and we broke down the contest the full three and three quarter hours. The next day he sent an email, “I’m so tired I can’t think straight.” Jack said due to travel schedules and logistics he got a full 90 minutes, yes one and one half hours, sleep and hit the office. “Every time we meet each other,” he said, “we can say ‘six’ and remember a great night.”
A great night. The greatest game I’ve covered? Maybe. Definitely top three. The other two? I’m not sure at this moment. I might need overtime to decide.