Syracuse finally comes alive in 6th overtime to put UConn away

NEW YORK – It had gotten to the point where Jonny Flynn didn’t even care if his Syracuse team beat Connecticut or not.

After five overtimes and more than 60 minutes on the floor, the final score of the Big East quarterfinal game was fast becoming irrelevant to the beleaguered SU point guard.

‘For a second I’m just thinking, ‘Lord, let’s just get this game over, go home,” Flynn said. ‘Whoever wins, wins the game. It was getting near that time.’

But when Flynn and the Orange stepped onto the floor, they hardly look like the exhausted team they were. No. 18 Syracuse mustered 17 points in the sixth overtime, more than any other extra period, to finally finish off No. 3 Connecticut, 127-117, Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Orange had yet to lead in any of the 25 minutes of overtime and hadn’t won any of the game’s six jump balls. Eleven seconds into the sixth overtime, it had done both, after forward Paul Harris won the tip and shooting guard Andy Rautins curled around a screen and hit a long 3.

‘Sure enough we set the play, we had Andy coming off that screen and boom, he made it,’ SU head coach Jim Boeheim said. ‘That was pretty big.’

Attrition had taken its toll on both teams by that point: Seven players had fouled out between the two rosters. Syracuse was down to playing freshman reserve forward Kris Joseph at center and walk-on Justin Thomas at shooting guard, and the Connecticut bench was equally thin. But the SU reserves were able to hold onto the late lead to preserve the win.

‘We just gotta keep fighting,’ Rautins said. ‘We were working with a limited bench, and you can’t say enough about their efforts tonight, taking charges and getting rebounds late.

The fast start to the period proved to be a role reversal for Syracuse and Connecticut. In the fifth overtime, Syracuse had gone down by four points before scoring a bucket. In the third overtime, it was six points. The Orange had come from behind to force another period five times, yet couldn’t get over the hump to end the game.

Noticing the trend, Flynn started pressuring Harris to win a jump ball and finally give Syracuse the first possession, and hopefully the first lead. Harris did, over UConn’s Jeff Adrien, and it proved to be the spark the team needed. Syracuse went on to score the first eight points of the period. Connecticut never got within six.

‘Jonny Flynn said ‘We need to get one tip so we can start the overtime off with the lead,’ because we always trailed in overtime,’ Harris said. ‘We finally got the tip, the last one. And we started off with a 3 and we never looked back.’

The Orange shot 50 percent from the field in overtime and hit 10 of its last 11 free throws down the stretch to keep the Huskies at a distance. UConn, meanwhile, shot 3-for-15 from the field, and hit only one of nine 3-point attempts.

And when the Huskies cut the lead to six with just under a minute left, the Orange ensured there would be no seventh overtime. Flynn hit two free throws, Thomas blocked a shot on the other end, and Harris hit two shots for SU’s 126th and 127th points.

It provided for an anti-climactic ending what was generally agreed upon as the most exciting game anyone had seen or played in. But by the time the game ended, at 1:22 a.m., nobody seemed to care. The win was all that mattered.

‘We just wanted to finish the game,’ Rautins said. ‘Our goal was to get out there and get an early lead in the overtime because we had been down in all the previous ones, so we wanted to get the ball rolling with an early score and we didn’t want to look back. We accomplished that goal, and we took care of business out there.’

kbaustin@syr.edu

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