Six OTs. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT). Every once in a while there’s a game where as you’re watching it you just know something amazing is going to happen. Maybe it’s the bounce the players have on the court or the electricity in the air of the crowd. Maybe it’s the way a seven-foot-three giant outhustles a guy half his size for a loose ball on the floor, or the way a shooter comes hard off a curl to drill a 28-footer like it was a floater in the lane. It’s unclear how you know what you know, but you know that you’re witnessing something special, and you’re not alone – everyone in the joint can sense it, and the fans watching from home feel it too. There are only a few games in our personal history that we can remember having that sensation. The Laettner game was one – we realized it when UK started nailing threes all over the place to erase the 12-pt Duke lead in the blink of an eye. The Arizona-Gonzaga second round game in 2003 was another. Tonight’s Syracuse-UConn game was the latest.
Games like this, you don’t just watch. All the senses are engaged. You breathe them. You taste them. Even better, these games breathe you. They inhale the collective emotions and anxieties of everyone in the building, and like a living organism, emit a beautiful poetry of synaptic orgasmica. The final game time was just shy of four hours (an absurd length for a hoops game), but the second half and OTs felt like about fifteen minutes. It’s like nestling up with a loved one or stumbling across your favorite movie on TNT. Time no longer matters. That’s how you know. Our Big East correspondent, Rob Dauster, was live-blogging this game from his Blackberry inside MSG tonight, and reading through his posts is like reading the wild scribblings of a man reaching hoops nirvana (and exhaustion). There was one post that he made that absolutely crystallized this game for everyone tonight – “Every single person is standing in this gym.” Because that’s what it comes down to: the crowd, the players, the gym – all in unison, all making magic happen. For what it’s worth, Rob, every single person at home was standing too.
Now let’s get to the game itself. Obviously, we’ve been saying all year that Syracuse has F4 talent. The problem has been that they haven’t been able to maximize that talent, but the Orange are now showing signs that they’re starting to figure it out. This SU team has a swagger that we haven’t seen since the G-Mac days, but the key difference is that Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are far more talented than McNamara’s last two teams. We fully expect the Orange to have nothing left in the tank for WVU tomorrow night, but we’d be utterly shocked if this team laid an egg in next week’s NCAAs. The Cuse plays hard, and we just have a sneaky suspicion this year that they’re going to make some noise in this year’s Tourney (Flynn’s Charles Smith impression notwithstanding).
As for UConn, they had three possessions in the first five OTs to win the game, and each time they dribbled the ball around and forced up some horrible shot. Even the play that gave them the tie to send it to OT before Devendorf’s absurd three at the end of regulation was off of a broken play. This is indicative of the same problem that has plagued this group of Huskies since they got to Storrs – they’re just not clutch. Here we are discussing a group of juniors that spent several weeks at #1 this year, and they’ve yet to win a postseason game. Not one! Husky fans are going to get angry at us and declare that they were able to win some meaningless game against Gonzaga or whoever during the regular season… but they’re UConn, an elite program, and they should know better than that. Legacies are built in March (that’s how Calhoun built his), and this group of players remains suspect until they prove once and for all that they can play championship level basketball in tournament formats. We’re still waiting on it.