Louisville Takes Last Big East Championship as We Know It

Published on: 17th March, 2013

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rick-pitino
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New York — Finally and regrettably to most fans of college basketball and, the The Big East specifically, the clock rang down on the legendary conference tonight at 10:52pm. At that moment, the Louisville Cardinals, part of the history and excellence of this basketball league, became the last champion of this league in it’s original configuration by defeating Syracuse, 78-62.

How fitting that two of the great coaches of the sport, Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim, would square off in the final game of a league filled with so many legendary memories of great players and great coaches, big games, three national championships, hall of famers everywhere.

Another legend was made tonight in the person of Louisville’s point guard, Peyton Siva. The four-year point guard had 11 points and eight assists to lead No. 4 Louisville to a 78-61 victory over No. 19 Syracuse on Saturday night, giving the Cardinals their second straight Big East tournament title. Siva became the second player in conference history to win the tournament’s most valuable player award two consecutive years, joining Patrick Ewing, who accomplished it in 1984-1985.

“I don’t know how I am in the same sentence as Patrick Ewing,” he said.

The Cardinals got their third title by overcoming a 16-point deficit in the second half — almost double the previous record in a championship game — and they kept pouring it on once they got the lead, going ahead by as many as 18 points.

Second-seeded Louisville (29-5) — along with Georgetown and Marquette the tri-champions of the regular season — won its 10th straight game with its defense, forcing Syracuse into 20 turnovers and keeping the Orange off balance during the 24-3 run that turned the 16-point deficit into a 56-48 lead with 8:51 to play.

“I knew we would come back,” Siva said during the on-court celebration. “It might not be the prettiest win in the beginning, but we got the job done.”

It was a heartbreaking loss for fifth-seeded Syracuse (26-9), who was hoping to leave Madison Square Garden with its sixth title as it heads for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

The Cardinals will join them in the ACC the following season but this was the game that was signifying the end of the Big East as we know it with the seven basketball-only schools leaving to form a new conference and keeping the name Big East and the tournament at Madison Square Garden.

None of that mattered once the championship game started and it looked like it was going to be Syracuse’s romp to the title with the Orange scoring the game’s first eight points and taking a 35-22 halftime lead and people scrambling in record books to find the largest margin of victory in a Big East championship game.

Instead the search was on for the biggest halftime deficit overcome and the previous best was nine points by Louisville over Syracuse in 2009.

The Cardinals didn’t just overcome the halftime deficit, they made it disappear quickly. Louisville went on to lead 73-55 with 2:03 to play. The first 10 points in the run came in a span of 1:34. The Cardinals just wouldn’t let Syracuse get comfortable in any facet of the game — from bringing the ball up against the pressure to trying to find a clean look against the zone.

It was all Louisville in the second half.

“I think they’re the best pressing team that I’ve seen this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It was probably the worst thing to happen to get up 15. If we hadn’t played well and we were up four or five, they probably wouldn’t have done that, but that’s what they had to do at that point to go after it, and that was exactly what I would have tried to do, and that’s what they did, and they’re good at it.”

Louisville (29-5) — along with Georgetown and Marquette the tri-champions of the regular season — won its 10th straight game with its defense, forcing Syracuse into 20 turnovers.

“I knew we would come back,” Siva said during the on-court celebration. “It might not be the prettiest win in the beginning, but we got the job done.

“I don’t know how I am in the same sentence as Patrick Ewing.”

Freshman Montrezl Harrell led Louisville with a season-high 20 points, and Russ Smith and Luke Hancock both had 10 points. Gorgui Dieng had nine points, nine rebounds and eight assists for the Cardinals.

Harrell was 7 of 13 from the field and had seven rebounds.

“I came in the game just being prepared for whatever Coach needed me to do,” Harrell said. “When I got on the floor, I just wanted to help guys with a big lift. I was going all over the place, trying to get rebounds, either offense or defense. These guys looked for me, and I just tried to finish for them. I just came out hard and played my heart out.”

C.J. Fair had 21 points for the Orange, Michael Carter-Williams had 11 points and nine assists, and Brandon Triche added 10 points.

“We didn’t make some smart moves at the end, but we kind of had the lead,” said Syracuse’s James Southerland, who scored all nine of his points from beyond the arc. “We didn’t take advantage of our lead and move the ball around like we should have.”

In their 10-game winning streak, Louisville allowed opponents 54.6 points on 36.4 percent shooting while forcing 17.7 turnovers, including 10.4 steals.

Syracuse shot 40.8 percent but committed 20 turnovers. Louisville had 11 steals, including four by Siva, who became the school’s all-time leader in that category on Friday night. He tied the Big East tournament record with seven steals against Notre Dame in the semifinals.

Syracuse will leave the Big East tied with Georgetown for the most conference tournament wins at 78.

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