3 more overtimes, 4 Big East teams still standing

Three more overtimes, four Big East teams standing.

And there’s plenty still to come at Madison Square Garden.

Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and Notre Dame advanced to the

semifinals of the nation’s most exciting conference basketball

tournament on another day of March Madness in the city that never

sleeps.

The 23rd-ranked Fighting Irish capped a hectic Thursday by

outlasting South Florida 57-53 in a game that went to overtime and

ended just before midnight. Hours earlier, Yancy Gates and the

Bearcats got past No. 13 Georgetown 72-70 in double OT.

No. 2 Syracuse rallied for a 58-55 victory over defending

champion Connecticut in the first quarterfinal, and Rick Pitino’s

feisty Louisville team ran away from No. 9 Marquette, 84-71.

Jim Boeheim and the Orange face Cincinnati in one semifinal

Friday night, followed by Louisville against Notre Dame.

The Irish advanced this far the past two seasons as well, but

they’ve never gone further. They are 0-4 in semifinal games since

joining the Big East for the 1995-96 season.

”I really believe this group, of all my teams, is most equipped

to get to Saturday night,” coach Mike Brey said. ”It’s something

we talked about in our program for a while. It’s the next step. I

think our program has been extremely consistent and solid in the

Big East, but playing on Saturday would mean a lot, and I think

this group has really digested it. Of course, we play the same guys

who stopped us from getting there last year in Louisville.”

That game went to overtime as well, before the Cardinals emerged

with an 83-77 win.

And hey, it figures.

Three games have gone to OT already in this year’s Big East

tournament, matching 1998 and 2011 for the most ever. Perhaps that

bodes well for the third-seeded Irish (22-10), who are 3-0 in

overtime games this season after edging No. 6 seed South Florida

(20-13). They won 67-65 in double OT at Louisville on Jan. 7.

”Every time we play them it’s never regulation. The last six,

seven games. It’s unbelievable,” Brey said.

Gates scored 23 points in his back-and-forth, big-man duel with

Henry Sims, including two baskets in the last 2 minutes of

regulation as fourth-seeded Cincinnati (23-9) fought back from an

11-point deficit with less than 8 1/2 minutes left against No. 5

seed Georgetown (23-8).

The senior was such a force that the Hoyas swarmed to him on the

Bearcats’ final possession in the second overtime, freeing Cashmere

Wright to bank in a runner for the winning shot with 7.6 seconds to

go.

”This is my last shot at it, so you don’t want to just play one

game and go home right away,” Gates said. ”I’ll never play in the

Garden in the Big East tournament again, so just trying to push and

fight and stay here as long as possible.”

There were seven ties and 18 lead changes in the first

multiple-overtime game at the Big East tournament since Syracuse

beat UConn 127-117 in six OTs in the 2009 quarterfinals.

Then, in the semifinals last year, Connecticut beat the Orange

76-71 in overtime.

Their rematch Thursday ended in 40 minutes, but it was pretty

tense just the same.

The top-seeded Orange (31-1), expected to be a No. 1 seed in the

NCAA tournament as well, won their 11th straight game overall. This

was their first game after earning a double-bye into the

quarterfinals.

”I hate sitting around all week, and it’s very difficult,”

Boeheim said. ”We haven’t played that many games and we need to

play again. Tomorrow’s game will help us, but this was a tremendous

comeback. This team has been very good down the stretch all year,

and that was the case today.”

The game again pitted Boeheim against fellow coaching great Jim

Calhoun – though both have been dealing with off-the-court problems

this season.

Boeheim, whose program has weathered the child sex-abuse

allegations against fired associate head coach Bernie Fine and

recent allegations of former players in the program failing drug

tests, earned his 887th win, second on the career list.

”This was reported five years ago, and we’re waiting for them

to finish the process,” Boeheim said when asked about the drug

tests. ”If things were bothering us we wouldn’t be 31-1. Nothing

bothers us. We come ready to play. That’s what you should do in

life. Everybody gets bothered. Everybody has problems. I’m much

more concerned about my wife being mad at me than I am anything

else, to tell you the truth.”

About 3 hours after Boeheim spoke at the news conference the

NCAA released a statement clarifying the time frame.

”The NCAA enforcement staff received a self-report from

Syracuse University on October 27, 2010,” the organization

said.

Calhoun and the ninth-seeded Huskies (20-13), last year’s

national champs, had their 13-game postseason winning streak

snapped.

Pitino’s defensive-minded team has been perhaps the most

impressive in the Big Apple so far. After a pair of losses last

week knocked the seventh-seeded Cardinals (24-9) out of The

Associated Press Top 25, they shut down Seton Hall in the second

round Wednesday and then forced No. 2 seed Marquette (25-7) into 26

turnovers, one shy of the tournament record.

”They kept hounding us,” Golden Eagles star Darius

Johnson-Odom said. ”I think we had an idea that they were going to

pressure us. I didn’t think it was going to be at a high level like

that.”