A Daily Babble Production
As is so often the case in my life, the ice cream was the key.
Embarrassing as this is to admit, only an ice cream sandwich - a chipwich to be exact - prevented me from missing the game of the year in collegiate basketball.
While out with my buddy Blitz last week, I picked up one of those concoctions featuring two large cookies bookending vanilla ice cream coated with miniature chocolate chips. Because I had a meeting immediately thereafter at a place that didn't have a freezer, Blitz offered to store the chipwich in his. Good guy, that Blitz.
With the Celtics off on Thursday, I spent most of my night playing ball at a local gym. If not for Blitz's call earlier in the day to remind me about the chipwich, I probably would have returned home and plopped down in front of the computer to write a lengthy screed for this afternoon about the various types of irritating folks one tends to come across in a pick-up basketball game (that rant is coming soon, by the way) before passing out on the eve of the final day of a busy week.
Instead, I headed straight over to Blitz's place once the gym closed a few minutes after 11 central time. As he handed me the prized delicacy, Blitz remarked, "By the way, this game I've got on has been insane. Tied in double-overtime right now. Let me tell you about the end of regulation..."
So I sat down with a friend to consume some unnecessary calories and catch what appeared to be the last 90 seconds of a rather exciting college basketball game.
Four overtimes (and nearly an hour) later, I left knowing that few who watched will ever forget Syracuse-UConn in the Big East quarterfinals.
You won't find the most noteworthy play of regulation in this game by searching the game log. That's because, officially speaking, it never happened. After Kemba Walker made a lay-up for UConn to tie the game at 71 with two seconds to play, Jim Boeheim called timeout. The next line on the game log reads, "0:00 - End of the 2nd Half." Inside the gap between those two events, Syracuse's Eric Devendorf banged a jumper from outside the three-point line just as the buzzer went off. As I saw replayed several times through the next six periods of basketball, the Syracuse side erupted as its hero immediately jumped atop a press table to celebrate.
It was a celebration that ended when, after much deliberation, the officials finally came to a decision on a play that was far closer than close: The ball sat on Devendorf's fingertips as the red light went on to signal the end of regulation. No basket.
From there, we witnessed a bit of everything.
We saw the Syracuse Orange play five overtimes without ever once taking a lead. Three times, the Orange tied the game in the final 20 seconds of a period. Rick Jackson dunked with eight seconds left in the first overtime. In the third, Andy Rautins showed no hesitation curling around a screen to catch and release a pass from Jonny Flynn to hit a game-tying three with 19 seconds remaining. In the fifth, Flynn made two free throws of his own.
We saw officials unafraid to do their jobs and keep order, even if it meant not following the nonsensical tradition of swallowing their whistles for the latter stages of a close game. The crew of Bob Donato, James Breeding and John Cahill made several correct offensive foul calls during the extra sessions and didn't hesitate to hit Connecticut star Hasheem Thabeet with his fifth and final foul on a loose ball call. Thabeet clearly extended his arm to push off on Paul Harris while battling for an offensive rebound under the basket. Gutsy call. Correct call.
We saw the Huskies sans Thabeet fight through the last 3:51 of the fourth overtime and the entirety of the fifth while never allowing the Orange to jump in front. That's battling. When the big man was on the floor, all he did was shoot 70 percent from the field while putting up 19 points, 14 boards and six of the team's 16 blocks.
Syracuse missed two of its first three free throws after regulation. The men in orange then proceeded to hit 16 in a row and 21 of their last 22 to close the game. On the flip side, UConn gave 'Cuse life when Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price combined to go 1-for-4 from the line with a two-point lead in the final minute of the third overtime. This set up the Rautins three. Of course, it's hard to be too bummed about the play of two guys who logged a combined 118 minutes between them, with Adrien posting 12 points, 14 boards and 7 assists and Price going for 33 points and 10 assists (as well as 10-for-12 foul shooting). Nineteen of those points came in the extra periods.
We watched them tire. 'Cuse forward Paul Harris experienced his own odyssey of sorts down the stretch. On the final possession of the fourth overtime, Harris got free on the right block, caught a pass and turned for a lay-in. But a Connecticut player sprinted back into the play and made himself just enough of a distraction to force Harris to double clutch. He recovered his own miss but couldn't put the ball in on his second effort either, extending the game to a fifth extra session. The period after that, Harris caught the ball on the right baseline and took a powerful step to dunk. But on a 56-minute night, his legs finally betrayed him, and Harris found his dunk attempt knocked away by the potent shot-blocking mechanism that is the side of the rim.
But we got to see them keep fighting fatigue as well. After missing the dunk, Harris grabbed yet another offensive board and somehow forced the ball off the glass and in while drawing a foul. The three-point play extended his team's long-awaited lead from five to eight with two and a half minutes to play. The orange would never look back.
When it was all said and done, three players logged more than 60 minutes. Another five logged at least 50. Five Huskies nabbed at least 10 rebounds, yet they couldn't capitalize on the eight offensive boards they grabbed in the final minute of each of the overtimes. Six players in all went for at least 20 points, with two of those six breaking 30. Seven players fouled out.
Meanwhile, as a result of that last part, guard Justin Thomas played the final seven minutes for the Orange. That's only 11 less than he played in his eight other appearances all season. Imagine going from the likelihood of a DNP-CD to playing in the fifth and sixth overtimes of the most memorable game of the year in college basketball at the World's Most Famous Arena. Thomas even blocked a shot during his run.
Before it was all over, we even saw something that never seems to happen in close college games: The benches sat. The players on the sidelines were so tired by this point that even they could only stay on their feet in spurts.
As one might presume, that was nothing compared to how drained the guys on the court looked.
But they got through it, and everyone on that floor never seemed to take a second away from working his tail off.
When the final gun blew, the Syracuse Orange claimed victory by a 127-117 score that made the game sound far less close than it actually was. And everyone who saw it suddenly possessed a memory unlikely to escape us in this lifetime.
A not-quite-buzzer-beater. Clutch shots galore. A huge performance from the foul line. Tired folks on the sidelines and even more tired folks sprinting up and down for 30 minutes added on to a game that was only supposed to be 40 in the first place.
I'm just glad I wanted some ice cream last night.