Let’s take a second to reflect on everything UConn/Syracuse was not. There was no championship on the line; in fact a spot in the Big East Title game wasn’t even at stake. A loss by either school would not end anyone’s season; both actually hope to play a lot more basketball this year. And chances are, NCAA Tournament seeding wasn’t up for grabs in this one either.
Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s talk about how UConn and Syracuse provided one of the most incredible sporting events we’ll ever see. We’ll remember it as the longest college basketball game any of us have ever watched —the second longest in history—but it was not just the length of the contest that made this one epic. It was everything – the time, the venue, the teams, the coaches, the players and the crowd.
This was the perfect way to kick off the greatest month in sports.
The truth is, the stage was set before tip-off. This was the preeminent rivalry in the Big East meeting in primetime on ESPN inside the World’s Most Famous Arena. It featured three of the most polarizing figures in college basketball, the coaches Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim, as well as Syracuse’s Eric Devendorf, who will go down as one of the most-hated players in league history (think J.J. Redick except less mama’s boy and more serial rapist).
On the Huskies’ side, you had Big East co-Player of the Year Hasheem Thabeet as well as a few kids from New York City, including Kemba Walker, the freshman making just the second start of his career and A.J. Price, making one of his last. And then, of course, you had the hostile fan bases. Ask anyone who knows anything about the Big East and they’ll tell you UConn and Syracuse bring more fans to the Garden each year than anyone, including St. John’s. And they can’t stand one and other.
Now, when you combine all of that with what went down late Thursday night and into this morning, you’ve got a historic event. To put it in perspective, had Devendorf’s three at the buzzer in regulation not been waved off, the game would have been called a classic by everyone in America. The fact that it lasted nearly two more hours puts it on the shortlist of the greatest basketball games ever played.