Reliving the Game of the Decade: Syracuse-Connecticut Go Six OTs
Former Syracuse walk-on Justin Thomas could be a poster child for any number of sports cliches.
"Keep living your dream."
"Your chance will come."
Or as the late Jimmy V would say, "Don't give up...Don't EVER give up."
Thomas battled injuries early in his basketball career that derailed his hopes of being a Division I scholarship student-athlete.
After reaching legendary status as a pickup baller at Syracuse's Archbold gym, the Orange coaching staff knew he had enough left in the tank to join Jim Boeheim's squad as a walk-on.
When two top 25 teams battled into the wee hours of the morning, Thomas was one of few players that still had enough gas in the tank to fight for a single victory that needed six overtimes to decide.
When Thomas finally received his chance and took the court against one of Syracuse's greatest rivals, he didn't stare into the eyes of Hasheem Thabeet or Stanley Robinson. He didn't stand next to teammates Arinze Onuaku, Rick Jackson, or Eric Devendorf.
Those players were causalities of foul trouble.
Instead, Thomas took the court with Kris Joesph, the Orange's eighth man and small forward who was stuck playing center. Connecticut was left to counter with seldom used guards Donnell Beverly and Scottie Haralson.
The decade's greatest game would be decided by a handful of players that hadn't played a meaningful minute all year.
The losing team could have sent its final lineup to the Island of Misfit toys where the Charlie in the Box and spotted elephant would have accepted UConn's lineup as one of their own.
The winning team instantly had legends.
Jonny Flynn became an iron man and top 10 lottery pick with 67 minutes of the guttiest basketball the college game has ever seen.
Andy Rautins became a savior delivering late three-pointers that would serve as the rocks that would slowly slay Goliath.
Justin Thomas became the guy who could still do jumping jacks at one the morning while announcers struggled to voice the irony of his actions.
Together, the misfits and legends played for 244 points, 226 minutes, six overtimes, two days, and one game of the ages. That slogan found its way onto the back of a shirt produced by a Central New York company "Holy Shirt."
They sold 44,000 of those shirts about a game Flynn said, "He'd tell his grand-kids about."
A game Jim Boeheim put into perspective quite well, "Years from now, people will remember two things about this year. How we do in the the NCAA Tournament and this game."
Boeheim was partly right. Five years from now people aren't going to remember this team made it to the Sweet 16. They'll always remember that night.
The night the two teams played so long, two SportsCenter anchors had to trade off the nine plus minutes of highlights.
The night America fell in love with the Orange.
The night the nearly 20,000 people including myself who took the game in live will never, ever forget.
The night the Madison Square Garden scoreboards read "1:22 AM Syracuse 127 Connecticut 117 F/6OTs."
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