New York, NY—The final four of the Big East tournament took to the court at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to compete for the opportunity to play for the conference championship on the following evening.
To the surprise of the odds makers and most basketball observers, the two nationally ranked teams and favorites, Syracuse and Notre Dame, fell to unranked opponents, Cincinnati and Louisville. Each of the two giant killers defeated top ten ranked teams the night before as well. Georgetown (#10) was defeated by The Bearcats of Cincinnati and Marquette (#9) was dropped by Louisville.
During the opening contest on Friday, most seats were filled by orange shirted followers of Syracuse. This is always the case when the Orange plays in Madison Square Garden. The vast majority of the Syracuse followers were shocked and disappointed by the first 10 minutes of the game.
Excellent shooting by the Bearcats, especially from the perimeter, gave them a 25-8 advantage at 10:27. The last of these 11 Cincinnati points were uninterrupted by any points scored by Syracuse, The Bearcats netted five of the first six long-range attempts during those nine and one-half minutes and eight of the first ten in the half.
Although Syracuse cut the deficit in the final 10 minutes of the first half, the Orange trailed by double figures, 35-23, at the half. Syracuse’s veteran coach commented on the half, “We didn’t get anything going offensively in the first half. I was shocked that we were within 12.”
Syracuse cut the Bearcat’s advantage to single figures mid-way through period two. A 13-4 scoring run by the Orange in the last minute of play brought the lead to a single point with six seconds left. Two free throws by Dion Waiters cinched the 71-68 victory by Cincinnati.
Waiters, in the absence of production by others on the team, scored 20 of his 28 points in the second half. Coach Boeheim remarked of his effort, “He’s [Waiters] a tremendous offensive player, and he knows when other guys are struggling he’s going to have to be more aggressive, and he was tonight.”
Both the coach and his players described the tournament loss as having little meaning in the course of measuring whether or not the basketball season was successful, “As much as we want to win this tournament, the tournament that starts next week is the only one that matters. Nothing else matters anymore in college basketball. It doesn’t matter if you win 31 games. It doesn’t matter if you win your conference tournament…The only thing that matters is how you do in the tournament. We know that, and we’re going to be prepared for that.”
Saturday night’s tournament final will pit Cincinnati against Louisville, which easily defeated Notre Dame.