Upsets and buzzer beaters rock the Garden

Stephen Buszka

The Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden proved to the nation just how good the competition in the recently realigned conference really is. One of the most exciting tournaments in recent history sported several record-setting performances, dramatic finishes and major upsets in which the nation’s top two teams made unpredictably early exits from the tourney.

Rutgers, coming off an upset victory over Seton Hall, gave ‘Nova trouble in the first half. Quincy Douby, the Scarlet Knights’ leading scorer, set a record for most points scored in a half in the Big East tournament by scorching the Wildcats for 24 points in the first 20 minutes of play. During that time, Douby was 9-of-14 from the field and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Fortunately for the Wildcats, he was as stagnant in the second half as the rest of his team was for the whole game and added only seven points for a game-high of 31. ‘Nova outscored the Knights 53 to 22 after the break, expanding its one-point lead to an 87-55 victory. Allan Ray led the Wildcats with 26 points, but more surprising was the offensive outburst of Will Sheridan who more than tripled his average offensive output with 17 points and also pulled down 13 boards for the double-double.

‘Nova’s next game was more trying. Although the Wildcats pulled ahead early, Pittsburgh caught up and took the lead with 9:49 left in the first half and never looked back. A poor shooting night (.352 from the field) hurt Villanova who only had two scorers in double digits (Foye with 26 and Lowry with 10). The biggest loss, however, was that of Allan Ray. ‘Nova Nation gasped in horror as the ‘Cats second leading scorer (19.4 ppg) was hit in the eye during a loose ball scuffle, temporarily blinded and rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital early in the second half. Fortunately the injury looked worse than it actually turned out to be. Ray recovered quickly and has been cleared to play in the team’s first round game against the winner of Monmouth and Hampton. The Panthers built on a 32-21 first-half lead to knock off the No. 2 Wildcats 68-54.

Perhaps the biggest upset of the tournament was the loss of Connecticut to eventual-tournament champion Syracuse. Syracuse was regarded as a small obstacle for Connecticut en route to a Villanova-Connecticut championship game. Syracuse jumped out early and held the lead for most of the game. The Huskies fought back from a 39-28 first half deficit to take their first lead, 72-71, with 30 seconds left. After several free throws, they stretched their lead to three points. Three points, however, was not enough to seal the deal. Gerry McNamara, MVP of the tournament, tied the game from the NBA three-point line with 5.5 seconds left. The Orange went on to win in overtime.

The biggest story of the weekend was the surprising play of the Syracuse Orange. Prior to the tournament, the Orange were a bubble team at best with a star player who was deemed “overrated” by the Syracuse University newspaper. McNamara and Boeheim did their best to prove everyone wrong by stringing an improbable and unprecedented four consecutive wins to take the Big East crown. McNamara started off the tournament by hitting a game-winning, running three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left in the game for the win over Cincinnati.

Following the victory, Coach Boeheim addressed the critics of Syracuse’s leading scorer in a profanity-laced post-game press conference stating, “Without Gerry McNamara, we wouldn’t have won 10 [expletive] games this year.” He was seemingly setting up McNamara to fail in the next game against the Huskies. However, McNamara once again stepped up to the occasion and came up big, leading the Orange to a second tournament victory.

The Orange carried their momentum into the semi-final game against the Georgetown Hoyas. McNamara once again worked his magic and led Syracuse back from the largest half-time deficit (15 points) ever over come in the Big East Tournament. With 48 seconds left, he hit a three to bring his team within one. A little more than half a minute later, he found the ball in his hands once again, but this time dished the game winning assist to Eric Devendorf who made the lay-up to put the Orange up for good with 13 seconds left.

In a close championship game, Syracuse was able to hold off the Pittsburgh Panthers for a 64-61 victory to secure the Big East Tournament title and the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. Syracuse became the first team without a first-round bye to win the Big East Tournament by winning four-straight games.

McNamara was named the tournament’s MVP mostly due to his heroics in the first three games. He finished the tournament with a record 16 three-pointers.