NEW YORK — There was so much to reflect on just minutes after the last championship game of the Big East tournament as we know it.
Louisville became just the fourth school to repeat as champions, beating Syracuse 78-61 on Saturday night in an incredible game that saw the fourth-ranked and second-seeded Cardinals turn a 16-point, second-half deficit into an 18-point lead.
There were moments to remember over this being the final Big East tournament as has been familiar for the past three decades with the seven basketball-only schools leaving to form their own conference. There had already been so much conference realignment with football-centric schools such as Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia leaving and others to follow.
While Louisville cut down the nets, there was quite a bit to think about.
“Obviously, it’s a real special night for the University of Louisville," Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said of the school’s third Big East title. “The final minute of play, first thing I thought of is what an incredible group of guys I’m coaching. Then I thought how happy I was for my family, and then immediately I thought of (Big East founder and first commissioner) Dave Gavitt and what he formed, and all of us in some way or another flourish because of Dave Gavitt.
“This was a special, special night."
There couldn’t have been many in the sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden who would have thought early in the second half that this game would be anything more than a spectacular exit for Syracuse, which is headed for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.
The 19th-ranked and fifth-seeded Orange had a 45-29 lead with 15:50 to play. It seemed to be a matter of watching the clock wind down and thinking of a celebration for Syracuse’s sixth title.
But the Cardinals turned up the fullcourt pressure and started playing the kind of defense that had them win 10 straight games.
Suddenly the Orange (26-9) couldn’t buy a basket, and the Cardinals didn’t miss. The run was 27-3 and when it was over Louisville had a 56-48 lead with 8:51 to play. In seven minutes everything had changed.
Freshman Montrezl Harrell led Louisville with a season-high 20 points
Also on Saturday:
No. 22 Wisconsin 68, No. 3 Indiana 56: CHICAGO — Ryan Evans scored 16 points to help Wisconsin upset Indiana in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Badgers (23-10) earned their 12th consecutive win against Indiana and will play Ohio State in today’s final.
No. 10 Ohio State 61, No. 8 Michigan State 58: CHICAGO — Aaron Craft came on strong in the second half to finish with 20 points and lead Ohio State (25-7) to the Big Ten tournament final by edging the Spartans (25-8).
No. 7 Kansas 70, No. 11 Kansas State 54: KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jeff Withey had 17 points and nine rebounds, Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe added 12 points each, and Kansas (29-5) pounded Kansas State (27-7) to win its ninth Big 12 tournament championship.
No. 9 Miami 81, N.C. State 71: GREENSBORO, N.C. — Durand Scott scored a career-high 32 points to help Miami (26-6) earn its first trip to the ACC championship game. The Hurricanes will take on North Carolina, who defeated Maryland in the other semifinal.
No. 13 Florida 61, Alabama 51: NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Kenny Boynton scored 11 straight points during a 15-0 second-half run as Florida rallied from 10 points down to advance to the SEC tournament title game. The top-seeded Gators (26-6) will face Mississippi in the final. Alabama led 37-27 with 16:05 remaining before Florida’s big run.
No. 15 New Mexico 63, UNLV 56: LAS VEGAS — Tony Snell scored 13 straight points for New Mexico during a second-half run as the Lobos (29-5) pulled away late and added the Mountain West tournament title to their regular season crown.
No. 16 Saint Louis 67, Butler 56: NEW YORK — Dwayne Evans nearly set a career high in points for the second straight game by scoring 24, and Saint Louis’ (26-6) defense locked down Butler in the second half to advance to its first Atlantic 10 title game.
No. 20 Memphis 91, Southern Miss 79: TULSA, Okla. — Chris Crawford scored 23 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer in the second overtime, lifting Memphis (30-4) to its seventh Conference USA tournament title in the past eight years.
No. 25 VCU 71, UMass 62: NEW YORK — Troy Daniels made six 3-pointers to score 20 points, and VCU (26-7) advanced to the Atlantic 10 tournament title game in its first season in the conference.