Most Memorable Moments in Big East Tournament History

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystMarch 12, 2013

Most Memorable Moments in Big East Tournament History

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    The Big East Tournament has provided a perfect NCAA tournament appetizer for more than three decades. Thrilling matchups, prodigious performances and heated rivalries have captivated a national audience at Madison Square Garden on an annual basis. 

    With the conference speeding toward a highly publicized implosion, it's an appropriate time to revisit tournament history.

    The championship showdown between All-American guards Allen Iverson and Ray Allen.

    When "The Truth" chased down "Pearl."

    The Hoya who owned Manhattan.

    With the Big East farewell tour reaching a crescendo, it's time to take a look in the rear-view mirror.

Kemba Walker Catches Fire

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    The 6'1" guard spearheaded a surprising surge that took UConn to the top of the college basketball mountain in 2011. Walker dominated the Big East Tournament, never cooled off and delivered coach Jim Calhoun a third national title.

    The Huskies stumbled into postseason play after suffering four losses in the final five regular-season games. UConn appeared destined for an early and unceremonious exit from the Big East tourney.

    Then Walker went to work.

    He opened the tournament with a 26-point performance versus DePaul before pouring in 28 points against Georgetown.

    The junior then drilled a game-winning jumper as time expired to push the Huskies past Pittsburgh in quarterfinal action.

    Playing his fourth game in four days, Walker accumulated 33 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and six steals during a semifinal overtime win over Syracuse. He concluded his tournament MVP performance with 19 points in the title game victory over Louisville. 

    The Huskies season ultimately ended on the winner's podium.

    UConn captured a national championship with a win over Butler, and Walker was named NCAA tournament MVP after averaging 24 points and six assists in six games.

Dwayne Washington Denied from Behind

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    The 1986 Big East championship game between Syracuse and St. John's culminated in one of the most dramatic game-winning plays this tournament has seen.

    It appeared the battle would end with a buzzer-beating shot—until a stirring defensive stand turned the tables and earned one team a conference trophy.

    Dwayne "Pearl" Washington, a scintillating Syracuse star known for his agility and killer crossover, raced toward the rim with seconds remaining, his team trailing St. John's, 70-69.

    A title-clinching layup appeared imminent.

    Enter Walter Berry.

    The power forward, dubbed "The Truth" long before Paul Pierce donned the moniker, changed everything.

    Berry, in hot pursuit behind Washington, gained ground while the clock wound down. As Washington rose up and reached toward the hoop, Berry swooped in and sealed the deal.

    He swatted away the potential game-winning lay-in and locked up St. John's second Big East championship in one motion.

    “The block gets bigger and bigger over time,” Berry told The New York Times. “Like those stories about fish.”

Syracuse Survives 70 Minutes of Suspense

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    Tournament drama reached another level in the 2009 quarterfinals. Syracuse and Connecticut clashed for nearly four hours until the Orange finally turned out the lights.

    Syracuse won the March Madness marathon 127-117. 

    The matchup bordered on basketball madness, as eight players fouled out and 102 points were tacked on after regulation.

    Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn was unforgettably calm throughout, converting 16-of-16 free throws in 67 minutes of action.

    That's right. Flynn spent just three minutes on the sidelines during a game that lasted six extra sessions.

    It was the second-longest Division I hoops game in history and challenged each team's physical and mental mettle. Fatigue eventually became factor and the pace of the game began to slow.

    "I just wanted to get the game over with," Flynn told the Associated Press via "I was thinking, 'Lord, just get this game over with. Whoever wins the game, let's just get it over with.'"

    The Orange ended up in overtime again the next day before eventually overcoming West Virginia in the semifinals.

    Syracuse advanced to the conference title game, where it lost to Louisville.

    Flynn earned tournament MVP.

Oliver Taylor Emerges, Seton Hall Surges

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    The 1991 Big East Tournament brimmed with star players (Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning, Eric Murdock, Malik Sealy, etc.), but largely unknown Seton Hall guard Oliver Taylor stole the spotlight.

    Taylor—a senior who was never recognized as an all-conference player—twice extended Seton Hall's postseason stay. He buried a pair of buzzer-beating shots to top Pittsburgh and Villanova.

    Those wins sent fourth-seeded Seton Hall to its first conference title game, where the Pirates prevailed against Georgetown. Taylor totaled 40 points in his final two Big East games.

Ray Allen's Huskies Edge Allen Iverson's Hoyas

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    Basketball fans around the globe are familiar with Allen Iverson and Ray Allen after each gained notoriety for successful NBA careers. Before the high-scoring guards became professional stars or signed lucrative shoe deals, they met in the 1996 Big East title game.

    Iverson, an All-American and two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, led Georgetown into the championship showdown. Allen, already a tremendously accurate outside shooter, also enjoyed an All-American season at UConn.

    The tournament's top two seeds (Huskies at No. 1, Hoyas at No. 2) provided viewers with a memorable heavyweight matchup.

    Georgetown built an 11-point lead late in the second half but squandered an opportunity to close out UConn.

    Allen hit a running floater with 14 seconds remaining to give the Huskies a 75-74 advantage. Iverson missed a contested jumper on the ensuing possession.

    Georgetown forward Jerome Williams was unable to cash in on a putback attempt at the buzzer and UConn claimed its first conference title since 1990.

    If you've never seen the final sequence of this game, I'd suggest watching the video above. It's a vintage glimpse of two players who ultimately helped define a generation of American hoopsters.

    Iverson and Allen met again the 2001 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Iverson, the league's regular-season MVP, led the Philadelphia 76ers to a series victory over Allen's Milwaukee Bucks.

Carrier Dome Hosts a Classic

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    The Big East tournament didn't call Madison Square Garden home until 1983. Syracuse hosted the tourney in 1981, and the Orange flourished in the Carrier Dome.

    Sixth-seeded Syracuse upset Georgetown en route to the title game against Villanova. The championship reached three overtimes, until forward Leo Rautins tipped in a missed shot in the closing seconds.

    His bucket broke a tie game and enabled the Orange to escape with an 83-80 victory and the conference title.

    Andy Rautins, Leo's son, played in the 2009 Syracuse vs. UConn Big East tournament game that lasted six overtimes.

Blame It on the Butler

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    It's always inspiring to see a senior rise up and refuse to let the curtain close on his college career. Da'Sean Butler brought everything he had into the 2010 Big East Tournament. 

    The 6'7" forward fueled a memorable Mountaineers postseason odyssey that reached April.

    Butler banked in a buzzer-beating three-pointer against Cincinnati in the opening round and followed it with more heroics in the championship game.

    He hit a game-winner against Georgetown with four seconds remaining, giving West Virginia a 60-58 win. The Mountaineers rode that momentum to a Final Four appearance.

McNamara Magic Saves Syracuse

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    Gerry McNamara may have been a forgotten man at times during Syracuse's run to its first national title because he shared the court with eventual NBA first-round draft picks Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick.

    Three years after winning an NCAA championship, he emerged as a star in his own right while leading the Orange to a Big East title. 

    McNamara's statistics were solid yet unspectacular in the 2006 conference tournament (16 points per contest) but his late-game performances remain legendary. 

    Syracuse suffered nine losses in its final 13 games of the regular season. An NCAA tournament berth was just about out of the question when the conference tourney started.

    McNamara, a 6'2" senior, refused to let the Orange fade without a fight...over and over again.

    McNamara made a game-winning three-pointer against Cincinnati after maneuvering through two defenders near midcourt. Syracuse trailed by two at the time of his shot.

    A miss in that situation changes the fortunes of an entire program and significantly alters the legacy McNamara left at Syracuse.

    He then provided a heavy dose of deja vu with another epic three-point basket at the buzzer against top-ranked Connecticut. His shot forced an overtime session, which ended with the Orange ahead 86-84.

    Two days later, McNamara scored 14 points and added six assists in a 65-61 victory over Pittsburgh in the conference title game. The gutsy guard was named tournament MVP.

    An improbable run to Big East supremacy ends in the first round if not for McNamara's heroics.

Ewing Era Takes Center Stage at the Garden

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    Patrick Ewing did plenty of damage at Madison Square Garden before he even put on a Knicks uniform. The Georgetown center anchored three Big East champions and reached three Final Fours during his collegiate career.

    Ewing cemented his legacy as a college basketball legend in the 1985 conference tournament, claiming a second consecutive Outstanding Player award. The journey culminated with a showdown against rival St. John's.

    Georgetown and the Red Storm spent much of the season battling for a national No. 1 ranking, while Ewing and St. John's star Chris Mullin became household names.

    After splitting a pair of regular-season matchups, the foes met yet again in the Big East tournament finale. Georgetown prevailed 92-80, adding another accomplishment to Ewing's National Player of the Year season.

    "We couldn’t handle the big guy," St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca said after the game via the Newark Star-Ledger.

    The Knicks ensured Ewing would become a fixture at the Garden by selecting him with the first pick in the NBA draft three months later. 

    His commanding performances on the big stage helped a young conference gain traction in the mid-'80s.