March 14, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - Louisville's sweep of its first Big East titles ended Syracuse's overtime run in regulation.

Earl Clark had 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead the fifth-ranked Cardinals to a 76-66 victory over No. 18 Syracuse on Saturday night, giving the regular-season champs their first Big East tournament title.

The conference's first five-day tournament will be remembered as well for the Orange and their run to the final game that included the epic six-overtime win over Connecticut in the quarterfinals and a more mundane one-overtime victory over West Virginia in the semis.

Louisville's pressure defense is tough on a team with plenty of rest. It was really troubling for a team that had played nearly an extra game of overtime in a four-day span.

The conference title in their fourth season in the Big East will probably translate into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the Cardinals (28-5).

Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn, who played 67 minutes in the marathon win over No. 3 Connecticut and all 45 in the victory over West Virginia, was selected the tournament MVP. He had 11 points and six assists in a mere 34 minutes against the Cardinals, but that followed three games where he averaged 22 points and 10 assists, including 34 and 11 against the Huskies.

The win was the 10th straight for Louisville, which will be making its second straight NCAA appearance and 34th overall.

Eric Devendorf had 20 points for Syracuse (26-9), which had won seven straight and went from a team that was being talked about in bubble terms to one deserving of seeding around No. 4. The Orange will return to the NCAA tournament after missing it for two straight years.

Syracuse was going for a sixth Big East title in its 14th championship. Its last title came in 2006, when Gerry McNamara led an overachieving team on a memorable run of last-second wins.

The Cardinals made sure there was no great story for Syracuse this time.

Syracuse closed the first half on a 13-2 run to take a 38-30 lead. But the Cardinals opened the second half on a 13-3 run that included two 3-pointers and during which Syracuse turned the ball over three times. The Cardinals led 43-41 on a reverse layup by freshman Samardo Samuels, who finished with 15 points, just 3:05 in.

Suddenly, the Syracuse players did look a little tired. They didn't seem to have their legs as they came up empty on six straight possessions after tying the game at 43.

Louisville scored eight straight points, the last four by Clark, and it seemed like another game with a chance of going overtime was not going to happen.

One possession in that stretch, Syracuse missed four 3-pointers. They managed to corral three long rebounds in the sequence, but none produced any points.

A 3 by Andre McGee gave Louisville a 68-56 lead with 4:04 to play, and the Syracuse fans in the sellout crowd of 19,375 at Madison Square Garden only had two more reasons to cheer: when coach Jim Boeheim took the starters out with 1:19 to go and when Flynn was announced as the MVP.

Terrence Williams had 11 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the Cardinals, who finished 10-for-28 from 3-point range and forced Syracuse into 17 turnovers, 10 in the second half.

Andy Rautins, whose 3 at the start of the sixth overtime gave Syracuse the lead for good two nights earlier, finished 2-for-10 from behind the arc as the Orange went 5-for-18.

Louisville won 15 conference titles before joining the Big East, 11 in the Metro, and two each in Conference USA and the KIAC.

Flynn was the first MVP from a losing team since Victor Page of Georgetown in 1996.