Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino set to square off as Syracuse faces Louisville in Big East finale
NEW YORK – Jim Boeheim against Rick Pitino. Not a bad way for the Big East to take a bow.
Syracuse and Louisville are all set to square off in the championship game of this farewell tournament Saturday night. Boeheim and the Orange advanced Friday evening with a 58-55 overtime victory against old rival Georgetown, then the Cardinals defeated Notre Dame 69-57 in the second semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
An original Big East power vs. Pitino's defending champs.
And then, it's all over.
"I thought about it before the game, obviously, and you think about it a little bit," said Boeheim, the coach at Syracuse for its entire Big East tenure. "It means a lot to us to get to the finals of this tournament. It means a lot."
Syracuse is bolting to the ACC next season, along with Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. Louisville will follow a year later.
Meanwhile, the rest of conference is breaking up. Georgetown is one of seven basketball-centric Catholic schools ditching their football-focused counterparts to create their own league, which will begin play next season and retain the Big East name.
So it's been a week of nostalgia in New York leading up to this finale.
"It's very exciting to be in another final game, especially the last year of existence in the Big East," said Pitino, an assistant under Boeheim at Syracuse early in their coaching careers.
It is Louisville's third straight trip to the title game and fourth in five years. The Cardinals are trying to become the first repeat champions since Syracuse in 2005 and 2006.
Louisville also won in 2009, beating the Orange in that final.
"I think around this time of year Coach really pushes us to bring our game to a higher level," Cardinals guard Peyton Siva said.
Syracuse and Louisville split their two meetings this season, with both winning at home.
The matchup nearly everyone was revved up about Friday was the first semifinal between Syracuse and Georgetown, who went nose-to-nose in a throwback struggle one last time at the Big East tournament.
Of course, 40 minutes wasn't enough to decide it.
And that was only fitting.
Brandon Triche scored the go-ahead basket early in overtime for the 19th-ranked Orange, who walked away winners in the final conference clash of their storied heavyweight rivalry with No. 5 Georgetown.
"It hurts," Hoyas point guard Markel Starks said. "We did some good things. But that doesn't mean anything with the outcome."
There's an interest on both sides to resume the series as nonconference foes, but no deal has been completed.
When the game was over, a Syracuse fan dressed in an orange T-shirt behind the baseline held up a sign that read, "This rivalry is officially closed."
Decades ago, former Georgetown coach John Thompson drew the ire of Syracuse fans forever when he proclaimed "This building is officially closed" after the Hoyas won the final game at Manley Field House, the old home for the Orange before the Carrier Dome opened.
The bitterness goes both ways.
"It's Syracuse. Anybody from Georgetown will tell you that they don't like them," said Hoyas forward Otto Porter Jr., the Big East Player of the Year. "It's the best rivalry in college basketball."
The fifth-seeded Orange (26-8) will make their 15th appearance in the tournament title game and go for their sixth crown Saturday night. They held top-seeded Georgetown (25-6) to 22 percent shooting from 3-point range (4 of 18) with their trademark 2-3 zone and got a big game from their bench to avenge a pair of double-digit losses to the Hoyas this season.
"Just us losing last time by 20, that meant a lot for us to even get to play against them again," Triche said. "Just reading comments from them, talking trash about us, it made it even more important to win a game like this."
Triche, James Southerland and backup center Baye Moussa Keita all had 13 points for Syracuse in a highly anticipated game that certainly delivered.
The teams ended up splitting 14 meetings in the Big East tournament, another appropriate conclusion.
"It's a shame they're heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "This is a rivalry that meant a lot to our program and to their program and to this conference."
Boeheim earned his 50th win at the Big East tournament, by far the record. The Orange had lost four of five coming into the tournament, all to ranked teams, before knocking off Seton Hall, Pittsburgh and Georgetown the past three days.
"I'm happy for Jim because his team was going the wrong way," Pitino said.
Russ Smith scored 20 points and Siva added 12 to lead fourth-ranked Louisville over No. 24 Notre Dame, the third straight year the Cardinals beat the Fighting Irish in the semifinals.
Siva, the tournament MVP last season, had six assists and seven steals, which tied the tournament record.
"He's just an incredible player," Pitino said.
It was Louisville's second consecutive win over Notre Dame since the Fighting Irish beat the Cardinals in a five-overtime classic on Feb. 9 in South Bend. That was the only loss in the last 13 games for the Cardinals.
Second-seeded Louisville (28-5) shared the regular-season championship with Georgetown and Marquette. The experienced Cardinals reached the Final Four last season and might be able to lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament with a victory Saturday night.
Sixth-seeded Notre Dame (25-9) was making its fourth straight semifinal appearance, but the Irish are leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference next season and never did reach the Big East championship game.
"I'm very disappointed we could never get to Saturday," coach Mike Brey said. "So a little bit of unfinished business, but we'll get over it quickly and get ready to prepare for next week."