With all 16 teams participating and a setting like Madison Square Garden since 1983, there’s nothing like the Big East Tournament. We look back at the 10 best games that made the tournament what it is today.
Note: Games ranked on excitement and the round in which they were played.
10. 1994 Providence vs. Connecticut (Big East Semifinals)
Want some evidence that Texas’ Rick Banes can in fact coach? At the helm for the Providence Friars, Barnes had the unenviable task of facing No. 1 seed UConn that was equipped with a double barrel rocket launcher in Ray Allen and Donyell Marshall (along with Kevin Ollie and Travis Knight). But on this day, they were mortal. Rob Phelps came off the bench and was the Friars’ catalyst. In the final minute of the game, Phelps sunk a trey, breaking a 65-65 tie after a UConn comeback. Phelps sparked the Friars with 23 points in the 69-67 win. Providence went on to win the conference tournament and the run landed Barnes a job at Clemson in the offseason.
9. 1991 Seton Hall vs. Villanova (Big East Semifinals)
For one week in 1991, the fourth-seeded Seton Hall Pirates were the cardiac kids. After sending the Hall to the semifinals with a buzzer beating lay-up to drop Pittsburgh, Oliver Taylor went back to the miracle well. Facing No. 1 seed Villanova in the semifinals, the Pirates and Wildcats were all locked up at 72 with the clock ticking. Taylor calmly drilled a game-winning jumper over Chris Walker to send the Pirates to the championship game. They’d take care of business, toppling Georgetown in the final 74-62. Taylor easily walked away with the tourney’s MVP honors.
8. 1998 Syracuse vs. St. John’s (Big East Semifinals)
Here’s a nice trip down memory lane. Ron Artest was a rugged freshman for the Red Storm and ESPN’s own Fran Fraschilla was his coach. With the ‘Cuse up by four points (58-54) and only 39 seconds left in the game, Ryan Blackwell dribbled the ball out of bounds. The Johnnies stormed back and Ron Artest sent the game into overtime with a basket in the waning moments of the game. After a “Tru Warier” trey to tie the game in the extra stanza, Blackwell got a chance to redeem himself. Blackwell barely got the shot off in time but it sailed through the rim at the buzzer to propel Syracuse to the title game with a 69-67 overtime win.
7. 2006 Syracuse vs. Connecticut (Big East Quarterfinals)
Prior to the Big East Tournament, Gerry McNamara was infamously named “overrated” by the Syracuse student newspaper. McNamara responded by captivating the Garden with epic late-game heroics. While his floating 3-pointer to beat Cincy in the first round had more flair, the gutsy guard saved another trick for UConn. UConn made a frenetic comeback throughout the game, and looked to be in line for the win when Denham Brown’s free throws gave them a three-point lead with 11 seconds left. The ball went straight to McNamara, who marched down the court and drained a three to tie the game. The ‘Cuse prevailed in overtime, 86-84, and McNamara had 15 points and 13 assists. They went on to become the lowest-seeded team to win the Big East Conference Tournament as a No. 9 seed.
Said Jim Boeheim after the win over UConn: “I’d say it’s one of the best wins, if not the best, Syracuse has ever had.”
6. 1984 Georgetown vs. Syracuse (Big East Championship Game)
It’s illegal to build any top 10 list about the Big East and not include Patrick Ewing on it. Ewing’s play in the 1984 tournament was basically flawless, and he saved his best performance for the grand finale.
This game itself goes down in the history books for the quasi-fight that occurred with 3:52 left in the game. Down 57-54 thanks to the Orangemen and a barrage of points from Pearl Washington, Georgetown’s Michael Graham threw Syracuse’s Andre Hawkins to the hardwood and used his left hand to swing at him. The punch missed, but the referee, Dick Paparo, saw the act and initially signaled for his ejection and a flagrant foul. He retracted this call and Syracuse was robbed of two free throw attempts.
The Hoyas took advantage of the gaffe and sent the game into overtime, where Ewing took care of the rest, leading them to an 82-71 victory with 27 points and 16 rebounds that was a sign of things to come at Madison Square Garden for him.