On Thursday night, UCONN and Syracuse played one of the most memorable college basketball games of all time—and hands down the greatest I have ever seen.
The game pitted two beasts from the east in a quarterfinal matchup that will be hard to forget. It pitted a competitive game for the whole forty minutes—a rare occurrence to find in college basketball these days. But wait, it was seventy minutes. What?
Yes. I know all you have heard. But it went a full six OT’s before finally ending, near 1:30 am local time. It demonstrated the physical skills that are needed to endure a competitive game like that. Jonny Flynn, of Syracuse, played a full 67 of the 70 minutes in the game! That is an astounding attribute to Flynn in seeing the team also played Wednesday night, played Friday night, and now have a date with Louisville in the Big East Championship Game.
All of the stars were delivering with tough rebounds, clutch shots (except, of course, the ones in the closing seconds of the many overtimes), and superb defensive play.
But, in a game like this, there is much more that goes into the game than the physical and talent aspects. Much, much more.
The mental games.
While all those elements usually impact most games at this level and the next, these are things that override absolutely every other factor relating to the game when the situation becomes one like this: Absolute crazed pandemonium with limited time.
When you no longer have fresh legs to run up and down the floor, throw down jams like MJ in the All-Star Games, and to run over to the bench area during a timeout, something else becomes manifest.
It’s the desire to win.
Unless there is a large gap between talent levels, the desire to win means everything. It what makes good players great; the great players, all-time greats; the all-time greats, the best; and the terrible, a little less terrible. The energy and focus to play your heart out is such a great test of character.
Playing at this level is an out-of-body experience. When announcers feature a great performance as “unconsciousness” to a hot player, it’s no joke. Last night, we saw both teams enter that state of mind, battling through the mental and physical aspects of the game, trying to pass this test.
On Thursday night, we saw those test results. UCONN, although losing, showed some desire. Fighting through six OTs without your starting guard and trying to keep your team leader in Thabeet out of foul trouble is pretty spectacular.
But, you have to give it to Syracuse.
When I was watching that game in the last hour or two, I would see some made baskets, a good steal. Didn’t think much of it.
It was the diving to the ground for the ball, the determinations on Devendorf’s face, and the constant “picking yourself up” attitude that was need after all those missed shots in the finals seconds of each overtime. Don’t try me. Those add up.
The players could have been demoralized, easily. But no.
“Oh, they tried hard. What a great game!”. NO! Syracuse was not going to for that attitude, and they explained why.
Syracuse has the heart of a champion. And they showed on Thursday night.
Even better. They won on Friday, as well. The marathon continues.