Ankur Patankar | Presentation Director2012 Basketball Preview
Transcending time: Syracuse players recall witnessing captivating moments in Big East history
Every so often there comes a moment in sport that transcends time. An instance of greatness so profound, a performance so breathtaking that the memory is indelible, etching itself deep in our minds as our eyes widen with disbelief and our mouths remain agape.
These moments ensnare our senses, perhaps even heightening them, so that each miniscule detail of our surroundings is captured and stowed away, able to be recalled vividly in an instant.
The beauty of these moments is that they are broad in scope. We can be dazzled as easily by an internationally historic display — the 1980 Miracle on Ice — as we can by a local stunner — Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a tiny gymnasium in Hershey, Pa. We can be moved by the same event in different ways, and the memories produced are uniquely ours.
One of those rare moments took place just more than three years ago in the limelight of New York City, inside the World’s Most Famous Arena, at the center of basketball’s mecca. A six-overtime classic between Syracuse and Connecticut was instantly recognized as one of the greatest games ever played.
For many of the players on the current Syracuse roster, this was their moment, their inerasable flashback. Too young to remember most of the polarizing events of sport from the 20th century, this unforgettable game in the early part of the 21st century is their treasured keepsake.
“Craziest game that I have ever seen,” senior guard Brandon Triche said.
And as Syracuse enters its final season in the Big East, the memory is unlikely to be dethroned before the impending move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. In all likelihood, it will always remain their favorite flashback of a league with which their school became synonymous and for which their coach was an iconic figurehead.
It is their moment that will transcend time.
They watched from various locations around the country. One was in Colorado on spring break and kept pushing back the time he said he would go to sleep. Another was at home in Virginia with his parents waiting to play “Call of Duty.” Still another was in Jamesville, N.Y., just outside Syracuse, on a three-way call with his friends, chattering frantically about each and every overtime.
Wherever these soon-to-be Syracuse players were, they watched. And they couldn’t turn away.
“I was in the living room with my mom and my dad,” sophomore guard Michael Gbinije said. “And we were just like, ‘When is this game going to end?’”
It finally ended at 1:22 a.m. After an unthinkable six overtimes, after 244 total points, after Jonny Flynn played 67 minutes, after a walk-on played meaningful minutes and after Syracuse outlasted Connecticut by a score of 127-117 in a game that spanned the better part of four hours.
Gbinije, who grew up in Virginia, was eating milk and cookies in the kitchen while he watched the game with his parents. He had no rooting interest on either side, no rooting interest in the Big East in general.
He was on his way to Duke, where Gbinije began his collegiate career before transferring to Syracuse this past offseason. At the time, he was watching the game simply as a basketball fan. A fan that was eager to play video games once the Big East quarterfinal matchup ended.
“I couldn’t leave the game,” Gbinije said. “The game was very important, so I was waiting for the game to end so I could play some ‘Call of Duty.’”
Except it didn’t end.
Out in Colorado, Baye Moussa Keita and his host family watched the game on a two-hour time difference. He was home on spring break from the national basketball power Oak Hill Academy in Virginia — the same high school Carmelo Anthony attended.
With the start of each successive overtime session, Moussa Keita told himself that it was the last one he would watch before going to bed. But every time he changed his rule, extended his deadline and soaked in what he called “something I’ve never seen.”
“I remember my friends texting me saying, ‘Are you ready to have eight or nine overtimes?’” Moussa Keita said. “I started laughing. That’s probably one of the greatest memories.”
While Moussa Keita and his friends texted back and forth excitedly, Triche and two of his best friends were on a three-way call. Triche watched the game sitting on the floor of his living room in Jamesville, and every heart-pounding sequence — beginning with Eric Devendorf’s near-buzzer beater at the end of regulation — prompted a phone call to either Mickey Davis or Alshwan Hymes, two of his teammates at Jamesville-DeWitt High School.
In a game full of moments that caused pulses to race, the phone rang incessantly with questions of whether or not each person had seen the last play. But of course each one had. No one dared turn off the television.
“After the first overtime it was, ‘Oh! You seen that shot? You seen that shot?’” Triche said. “Then by the third overtime we kept getting phone calls, so we ended up just being on a three-way.”
Triche went to school late the following morning.
When the news broke that Syracuse would join the ACC, Gerry McNamara’s mind raced to New York City. His initial thought was not the loss of rivalries with Georgetown or Connecticut, nor was it the potential for new rivalries with North Carolina and Duke.
Instead, McNamara was hit first by the loss of the Big East tournament and Madison Square Garden — the event in which he starred and a venue he repeatedly electrified.
“My immediate thought was, ‘Wow, no more Big East tournament,’” McNamara said. “That’s kind of the way to top off a great season is to go to Madison Square Garden and play on ESPN and be in the limelight.
“It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to that.”
And though no one on the current Syracuse roster has captivated a Garden party like McNamara did, they share his fondness for the tournament. Even Gbinije, who has never played a collegiate game at Madison Square Garden, called it “the best gym to play at.”
Four of Syracuse’s five Big East tournament titles were won on that floor, in front of crowds speckled with more orange than any other color, as the arena transformed into a second home for New York’s College Team.
But the 2012 season represents the final act. It offers one last opportunity to electrify a city, a school and the next wave of future players around the country. C.J. Fair said he wants to leave the fans with something to remember. Michael Carter-Williams said he plans to take the Big East championship home to Syracuse.
The collective desire is to create one final piece of magic in an arena where Syracuse has played the role of sorcerer so many times. To have a moment — even just one — that enthralls millions like McNamara’s running three-pointer against Cincinnati in 2006 is what all players crave deep down.
Because every young kid deserves that tantalizing memory he or she couldn’t possibly forget. That sense of amazement after witnessing the impossible. That moment that transcends time.
“It was really mind blowing,” Moussa Keita said. “So I just kept watching.”
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