When it comes to conference tournaments there is The Big East and then there are all of the others and it’s not even close. There is a reason it’s played in the greatest city on the planet in one of the greatest sports venues on the planet, it’s simply the best. Unfortunately for basketball fans The Big East Tournament as we know it is coming to an end. West Virginia has already left for The Big 12, Syracuse and Pitt will play one last time in The Garden before heading to the ACC with Louisville joining them in 2014. Rutgers is bolting for the Big 10 or whatever it’s called and the seven Catholic schools are leaving in June and taking the Big East name with them. The Big East Tournament will go on and they will play next year in The Garden but it won’t be The Big East that we have come to know. Some of the great rivalries that made college basketball what it is today will no longer be. As we close in on the final act let’s take a look back at some of the best moments that this storied tournament has given us.
1996 Ray Allen’s Game Winner- One of the most exciting Championship games Ray Allen hit an off-balance game winner over Allen Iverson with 13 seconds to play. Iverson and the Hoyas had 2 shots from inside the paint to win it but couldn’t convert. UConn had rallied from down 11 points with less than 4 minutes to play. The win was UConn’s second Big East Tournament title.
1986 St. John’s Survives- Ron Rowan hit a base line jumper with 8 seconds left to give St. John’s its first lead of the game. Syracuse’s Dwayne “Pearl” Washington drove the length of the floor to get off what looked to be the game-winner until All-American Walter Berry blocked the shot preserving the 70-69 conference title for The Redmen.
2006 Syracuse 4 wins in 4 days- Syracuse was the 9th seed and rode Jerry McNamara all the way to the title. In the opening round McNamara hit a 3-pointer as time expired to knock off Cincinnati. The next day Syracuse faced #1 seed UConn and again it was McNamara hitting a 3 with 5 seconds left to force overtime. Then his two free throws with 17 seconds left turned out to be the difference as Syracuse hung on 86-84. In the semi- finals it was McNamara’s assist to Eric Devendorf with 9 seconds left lifting The Orange over Georgetown 58-57. And in the finals Syracuse hung on to beat Pitt 65-61, McNamara set a tournament record with 16 3-pointers.
2011 “Kemba Time”- Kemba Walker led the 9th seeded UConn Huskies to 5 wins in 5 days including the game winner at the buzzer over Pitt in the quarterfinals. Walker averaged 26 points a game in the tournament including 19 against Louisville in the finals. He simply took over The Garden for 5 days and then continued his great run through the NCAA Tournament as the Huskies knocked off Butler 53-41 in the title game for UConn’s 3rdNational Championship.
2009 Syracuse-Connecticut 6 OT- In what will go down as the best Big East tournament game of all time Syracuse outlasted UConn 127-117 in 6 overtimes. UConn’s Kemba Walker hit a lay- up with 1.1 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 71. An Eric Devendorf prayer that went in from about 30 feet was reviewed but overturned as the replayed showed the ball was still in Devendorf’s hand after the buzzer sending the game into the first of six overtimes. Syracuse never led in any of the overtimes until Andy Rautins hit a 3 to start the sixth overtime and Syracuse pulled away. The Huskies simply ran out of gas. The stats from the game were astonishing, 244 combined points, 143 rebounds, 82 field goals and 43 turnovers. The game lasted almost 4 hours and didn’t end until 1:22am.