NEW YORK Junior guard Ben Gordon scored a game-high 23 points, made the game-winning shot and was named the winner of the David R. Gavitt Most Valuable Player Award as the University of Connecticut mens basketball team posted a 61-58 win over Pittsburgh in the championship game of the 2004 BIG EAST Championship at Madison Square Garden.
The title is the sixth BIG EAST tournament title in UConn history tying the Huskies with Georgetown for most tournament championships. The Huskies improve to 27-6 on the season and earn the BIG EASTs automatic bid to the NCAA Championship. UConn now awaits its tournament fate as the field of 65 will be announced Sunday night. Pittsburgh now has a 29-4 record.
Gordon finished the tournament with 81 points in three games besting the mark of 79 set by Allen Iverson during the 1996 event. Gordon has now scored 184 career BIG EAST tournament points, trailing only Chris Mullin of St. Johns, Sherman Douglas of Syracuse and Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown.
Gordon was named to the all-tournament team and was joined on the team by senior guard Taliek Brown. Carl Krauser, Jaron Brown and Chris Taft from Pittsburgh were also named to the team along with Craig Smith of Boston College. In three tournament games, Brown had 22 assists and is now tied for sixth all-time in BIG EAST tournament history with 54.
UConn junior forward and two-time BIG EAST Player of the Year Emeka Okafor returned to the Husky lineup after missing the first two games of the tournament with back spasms. Okafor scored 11 points and grabbed 13 rebounds for his 20th double-double of the year before fouling out with 2:19 to play and UConn trailing by two 56-54.
The game was one full of scoring streaks and large leads. Connecticut trailed 51-40 with 8:23 left to play before closing the game on a 21-7 run as Gordon scored 11 of those points, including the last four of the contest.
Connecticut took its first lead of the second half with 2:01 left to play on a three-point field goal by sophomore Rashad Anderson to make it 57-56 Huskies. Pittsburghs Mark McCarroll answered right back with a 13-foot jump shot to give the Panthers its final lead of the game.
Gordon hit the final go-ahead shot as he hit an acrobatic runner in the lane with 30 seconds to play to give the Huskies a 59-58 lead. Pittsburgh had an opportunity to win the game but UConn freshman forward Josh Boone blocked Carl Krausers jump shot and Gordon then hit two free throws to seal the victory.
The UConn flew out to a 13-2 lead in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the game, but the Panthers dominated the rest of the first half and posted a 19-2 run to take a 21-15 lead with 8:15 left to play. Pittsburghs biggest first half lead nine points -- was its 34-25 halftime lead. UConns comeback from the nine point halftime deficit was the second biggest in BIG EAST championship game history as St. Johns trailed Syracuse by 11 points (39-28) in the 1986 final and came back to win 70-69.
Anderson added 14 points for the Huskies and made two three-point field goals in UConns game-ending run. Pittsburgh had four players scored in double figures led by McCarroll and Chris Taft with 11 each.