Big East Live Blog, Day 5
An amazing tourney reaches its conclusion. Follow with us.
Greetings everyone and welcome to championship night in the Big East. It has been a phenomenal week to say the least. There have been upsets, outstanding individual play and of course The Epic on Thursday night that anyone who witnessed will remember for the rest of their lives. Tonight brings us two outstanding teams vying for the ultimate bragging rights in arguably the ultimate conference.
Syracuse has been here before; in fact they’ve been here 13 times and have won 5 Big East titles. The Orange have had 35 players make the all-tournament team since the inception of the event back in 1980. The last time ‘Cuse won came in 2006, it was their second in a row.
For Louisville this is a first. The still relative newcomers to the conference have never made the championship round and prior to this season had amassed two wins in the event over the years. Terrence Williams is the only Cardinal to ever make the all-tournament team. All of those facts are meaningless tonight though as only one team can be crowned the Beast of the East for the 2009 season.
Louisville, the regular season champ, knocked off Providence and Villanova to get here. Earl Clark has posted two solid games so far and the rest of the production has been by committee. While Samardo Samuels dominated inside on Thursday, Jerry Smith got hot from the perimeter last night. Terrence Williams has been solid but has yet to really go off for a big game in this tournament as of yet. Something tells me that could change tonight.
Syracuse is of course the story tonight though. The Orange have won three games in three days to get here, but in terms of total minutes have essentially played four games. Super point guard Jonny Flynn has played an unreal 162 out of 165 minutes in three days; don’t tell me he isn’t tired. That’s really what this will come down to, how much do the Orange have left in the tank? Even when well rested Louisville has the advantage at essentially every position minus the PG spot. The Cardinals are bigger, longer and more athletic, but as we’ve seen, inconsistent.
The crowd is most definitely throwing the majority of its support behind Syracuse, and you better believe its a rocking house at the Garden tonight. This is what March is about. This is what college basketball is about. The Big East season is about to conclude and you can bet its going to be a dramatic finish. Tip off is next in the Big Apple.
Championship Game: No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Louisville
– Louisville’s starters are announced to the tune of Biggies “Hypnotize”. That should be worth 10 points to start the game.
– Devendorf drills a three from the top of the key to get things going. I’m not sure what’s more amazing, the fact that he was so wide open, or that he kept his mouth shut after nailing the shot.
– Devendorf hits another three to put ‘Cuse up 6-0, but Earl Clark answers with an elbow jumper at the other end. I have a feeling that the junior is going to create some problems for the Orange’s 2-3 zone given his size and ability to score from mid-range. Jerry Smith swipes one from Flynn and lays in the easy two. The ‘Ville leads it 7-6 three minutes in.
– I know I’ve been hating on him all week, but the more I see him the more I feel like the Syracuse Orange is a reject Disney World character who is supporting himself by freelancing at a major University that happens to share his surname.
– The game is starting to get a very back and forth rhythm going. Pint sized Preston Knowles gets a tip in to go amongst the Orange bigs and Rick Jackson gets back to back flushes to go for Syracuse. Rick Pitino not liking what he sees from his front court on the glass calls time. With 12:38 remaining in the half give the Cards a one point lead at 13-12.
– I think fatigue may finally be starting to get the best of some of Syracuse’s players. Andy Rautins who has been so money all week when given open looks from the perimeter has been short on his first few open looks from deep. He gets called for a foul at the other end trying to pin a Knowles shot off the glass. Onuaku nearly takes the basket out of its foundation at the other end with a two handed stuff.
– The under 12 break finds Louisville ahead 20-14. The Cardinals are creating all kinds of problems with their full court pressure right now and have gotten three easy buckets in transition as a result of their quick hands. We’re also seeing Jim Boehiem go to his bench a little bit early in the game to rest some of his key players in the early going.
– Clark comes off a curl screen and hits another elbow jumper. He elevates so high on his shots that I have a hard time believing he has ever been blocked on the perimeter. Flynn comes the other way and is bumped hard going to the basket but the refs rule it a no call. A rather boisterous Syracuse fan in a tuxedo t-shirt has some choice words for the zebras. He is given reason to cheer though when Onuaku puts down another thunderous flush on the restart. It’s 25-22 Louisville with just over 8 remaining.
– The ‘Ville gets called for a three second violation and we’re at the under 8 official timeout. Syracuse is keeping it close which I figured the would during the first half. The big question will be if they have anything left in the tank to keep bringing the pressure for the final twenty. The other question, can Louisville play smart enough basketball to avoid letting the Orange hang around. If there is one team I don’t want to see in a close game at this point in the year it is Syracuse.
– Gerry McNamara (back for another game) is shown on the big screen and seconds later Rautins gets his first three to go. Hmmm, I wonder.
– Preston Knowles is having himself a ball game. No. 2 drills his second three and with 12 points has already doubled up his regular season scoring average. That last bomb by the way, about a step behind NBA range. Devendorf answers with a leak out though and puts Syracuse ahead 29-28. The Garden explodes.
– Devendorf buries a three from the corner right in front of the Louisville bench and glares at the Cardinals pep band. Pitino takes a timeout (second of the half) and the Orange have pushed the lead to four. Team of destiny perhaps?
– Terrence Williams gets a nice lay in and coming back the other way Onganaet throws down a flush but gets his legs taken out. Dude takes a brutal fall landing right on his back. After a few minutes on the floor he is able to make his way back to the bench under his own power. Paul Harris standing in knocks down the freebie for a 35-30 ‘Cuse lead with 1:18 to go until the break.
–The half comes to an end with Rautins drilling another bomb and the Cards proving unable to score in the final seconds at the other end. Can you believe it? Syracuse is ahead 38-30 at the break and has all the momentum going their way. I also just got word from a buddy who is watching this game on TV that Onganaet has been cleared to come back in.
– Former Syracuse greats Billy Owens and Derrick Coleman just walked by and into the media area which is where I’m heading right now for a snack. I’ll return in a little bit with some analysis of the first half.
– For the second straight game, and I still don’t know why, Louisville is not getting the ball inside. After Samuels and Clark went for 20+ each against Providence, the interior scoring for the Cards has been nonexistent. Clark, who is still being effective, has been playing more on the perimeter. But Samuels has been dormant for a game and a half now. Syracuse on the other hand just keeps coming and they are playing fantastic team ball right now. The Orange have 16 field goals and 13 assists, not bad. Andy Rautins and Devendorf continue to hit big shots when needed and with the team scorching the nets to the tune of 53 percent from the floor (50 percent from the perimeter) Jimmy B looks like he may be in line for his 6th Big East championship. The second half is about to get underway!
– Ask and ye shall receive. Louisville goes inside on their first two possessions to Samuels who draws a foul and gets an easy lay in. Off the score the Cards press, steal and T Will gets an easy one in the lane as well. The deficit is cut to five in less than two minutes.
– Ongenaet checks back into the game and the Syracuse crowd gives him a huge ovation.
– Louisville starts to get cooking from the perimeter. Jerry Smith yesterday’s big scorer gets a long two to go from the right side and Andre McGee follows that up with a bomb from the left side. Tie game at 41 with just over 17 to go and Boehiem takes a timeout.
– The Syracuse Orange and the Louisville Cardinal just high fived at center court during the timeout. Are you kidding me? This is the Big East Championship game, these two should be killing each other, not performing acts of good will. On another note, the Cardinal is either wearing shoulder pads under his costume or moonlights as a linebacker for the football team.
– A Jerry Smith three ball attempt from the right corner bounces over the backboard and sends us to the under 16 break with this one tied up at 43. Samuels has gotten a few more touches in the post and hit a good looking reverse lay in. This strategy is working well for Pitino’s gang as the freshman too strong for even Onuaku to handle by himself, and the added attention drawn to the paint is giving Louisville’s gunner an extra second on the perimeter.
– Louisville’s D is starting to make things happen. A trap right over halfcourt leads to T Will going to the line for a pair and then another steal finds Clark burying a wide open three in front of his own bench. It’s an 8-0 run for the Cards and they lead it 51-43 with just under 14 minutes on the clock.
– Arinze Onuaku just plowed through Samuels for a bucket. That’s like a tractor trailer plowing through a reinforced concrete wall. T Will makes up for it with back-to-back threes and the lead is 10.
– The under 12 official timeout arrives with Onganaet going to the charity stripe for a couple after getting bumped on a scoop lay in try from the right side. The ‘Ville has upped their lead to 11 and the Orange looks like they might be starting to run out of steam here in the second half. Can you blame them?
– Louisville throws the ball away on offense but I like their approach. They are spreading the floor wide, with Samuels working a triangle pattern in the paint and Clark floating around looking for openings. I think this set up works to the strengths of each player and it spread the Syracuse 2-3 zone pretty thin for the Cards to take advantage of individual match ups. As I write this Samuels throws down another flush, give him 10 second half points and a 9-point ‘Ville lead.
– A bit of controversy and a lucky break for Louisville. Out of the under 8 break Jonny Flynn nailed 1 of 2 automatics, but missed the second one. Ongenaet grabbed the offensive rebound near the sideline and Clark who played right up on him was whistled for a foul. Another official overruled the call though and said a Syracuse timeout was taken first. Jim Boehiems face was a priceless look of disbelief. The lead is still nine for the Cards with 7:30 to play.
– Syracuse is starting to look ragged across the board, especially Jonny Flynn who isn’t getting much lift to speak of on his shots. Louisville keeps rotating in fresh back court pressure and the game is starting to slip away from the Orange as Jerry Smith nails a three. Make it a ten point lead for the ‘Ville with 3:13 remaining and Syracuse taking a full timeout, their last.
– Flynn gets called for a tic tac foul on Jerry Smith about 80 feet from the basket; his language was sub par. The super soph responds with a jumper at the other end though and gets it to a 7-point game with just under 2 minutes to play.
– Louisville comes away with a steal and gets it ahead to Clark on the break. The junior gets at eye level with the rim on the tomahawk. Boehiem pulls out some of his starters signalling the white flag from the Orange. The Cardinals are going to win their first ever Big East Championship.
– Jerry Smith calls out to Terrence Williams, “How you feelin’ baby?” T Will responds with his classic smile and an, “I feel goooood.”
– There you have it! Louisville gets the regular season and the conference tournaments in the Big East and you can bet a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As the players rush the floor to celebrate Earl Clark and Terrence Williams jump and chest bump about four feet off the ground. The players throw on Big East Champions hats and shirts and get in a celebratory circle near the Louisville cheering section.
– Louisville has another balanced offensive game with six players reaching double figures led by Samardo Samuels who scored all 15 of his points in the second half. Terrence Williams had 11 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists for his best game of the tournament. He and fellow captain Andre McGee accept the championship trophy on behalf of the Cardinals.
– The players are called up one by one to receive their Championship watches. I like that as opposed to a trophy or a ring, it’s classy.
– Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, Eric Devendorf, Devin Ebanks, and A.J. Price are named to the All-Tournament team and Jonny Flynn is named the MVP of the Big East Tournament. I can’t think of a more deserving player in this week’s action than Flynn to take home this award after putting together a phenomenal four games.
– So there you have it. Fifteen games, five days, 44 hours of blogging and nearly 35,000 words to remember the Big East Tournament by. It has been a fantastic week of hoops complete with a buzzer beater finish in the Villanova v. Marquette game and of course Thursday nights The Epic which will go down forever in college basketball lore. As the Louisville players cut down the nets here at the Garden I’ll say my farewells. Thanks to all of you who read my thoughts and comments this week, it’s been a pleasure!