By Xavier Bleuel–
A whirlwind of emotions came swooping in a few moments after the buzzer sounding on Saturday night.
The Louisville Cardinals won the Big East Championship, but something more meaningful was upon us.
This was finally it, the Big East as we know it was finally over. It’s not like it came as a surprise. We all knew it was coming, but were never fully prepared to see the that conference that Dave Gavitt built from the ground up had officially fallen.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino, showcasing his utmost respect for the conference that made him into who is today, decided to not cut the nets down in Madison Square Garden.
“Obviously, it’s a real special night for the University of Louisville,” said Cardinals coach Rick Pitino. “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.
After a dominating first half and first four minutes of the second, the Orange were up 45-29 with 15 minutes to play, it seemed like a perfect ending for Syracuse (26-9, 11-7) and the Big East, one of its long-standing members to win the final game of the conference.
However, the Cardinals (29-5, 14-4) had other plans.
Led by Freshman Montrez Harrell, they overcame the largest deficit in the Big East Championship history to cruise past Syracuse 78-61. Harrell scored a career high 20 points while adding seven rebounds, igniting the comeback.
“I came in the game just being prepared for whatever Coach needed me to do,” Harrell said. “When I got on the floor, I just wanted to help guys with a big lift. I was going all over the place, trying to get rebounds, either offense or defense. These guys looked for me, and I just tried to finish for them. I just came out hard and played my heart out.”
To say it was remarkable would be an understatement. They pressed, then pressed, then pressed some more. The Cardinals blitzed and confused the Orange in the second half, forcing 13 turnovers and scoring 25 points off of those mistakes.
“I think they’re the best pressing team that I’ve seen this year,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “It was probably the worst thing to happen to get up 15. If we hadn’t played well and we were up four or five, they probably wouldn’t have done that, but that’s what they had to do at that point to go after it, and that was exactly what I would have tried to do, and that’s what they did, and they’re good at it.”
Being down by 16 can rattle some teams and psychologically send them packing. The Cardinals, however, aren’t your average team. Senior guard Peyton Siva would not let a loss be his lasting memory in the Big East wearing the jersey that he worked so hard to earn.
“I knew we would come back,” Siva, who became the school’s all-time steals leader, said during the on-court celebration. “It might not be the prettiest win in the beginning, but we got the job done.”
Despite just joining the conference in 2005, the Cardinals can be proud of their accomplishments during their short time in the conference.
The Cardinals double-dipped as regular season and conference champions during the Big East’s final season; they won their second straight championship in the perennially strongest basketball conference in America.
As the icing on the cake, the University of Louisville Cardinals hold the honor of being the last champions of the Big East in football and basketball.
Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal