SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) – Jonny Flynn did not leave the Big East tournament with a championship. But Syracuse’s scintillating sophomore point guard was the player no one could stop talking about.

Even though the Orange suffered a 10-point loss to Louisville in the title game Saturday night,

Flynn was named tournament MVP. He was only the fourth player from a losing team to win the award in the tournament’s 30-year history.

“It was an honor to be mentioned with some of the great players who have played in this conference,” Flynn said. “A lot of great players and Hall-of-Famers came through the conference, and to get it despite a loss shows how much everybody thought of how well I played. I would have rather traded it in for a Big East championship.”

Mostly on the strength of what it did at Madison Square Garden, Syracuse (26-9) was rewarded with a No. 3 seed in the South region of the NCAA tournament and moved up five spots in this week’s AP Top 25 to No. 13.

Flynn was the catalyst of the Orange’s three victories in New York City, including the epic six-overtime triumph over Connecticut, averaging averaged 19.8 points and 9.3 assists over four games.

Syracuse opens the NCAA tournament on Friday against No. 14 seed Stephen F. Austin in Miami, giving Flynn another chance on a national stage.

If any of the Orange faithful didn’t realize that Flynn was something special when he arrived in Syracuse from Niagara Falls High School in western New York, it didn’t take very long for him to make a lasting impression.

In his first game for the Orange, Flynn set a school record for points by a freshman in a debut with 28, two more than Carmelo Anthony’s benchmark five years earlier. Flynn hit three 3-pointers in a 61-second span, went 6-for-7 from beyond the arc, and added nine assists in a 97-89 win over upstate New York foe Siena.

Even when pressed, coach Jim Boeheim remained reserved in his early praise.

“He was good,” Boeheim said. “What do you want me to say? It’s one game.”

Flynn must have been in earshot. One night later, he hit a 3-pointer with 5.3 seconds left in regulation to break a 68-all tie and give Syracuse a 72-69 victory over Saint Joseph’s.

Flynn, who then used his 42-inch vertical leap to wow the home fans with an alley-oop dunk against Cornell, has been turning heads ever since.

“He’s a gamer,” Boeheim said. “He wants to be there.”

Much has been made in the past week of Flynn’s stamina. In the Big East tournament he played 35 minutes in Syracuse’s victory over Seton Hall, 67 of a possible 70 minutes against UConn, all 45 in an overtime win over West Virginia, and 34 against Louisville.

That almost pales in comparison to what he was asked to do as a freshman. When a knee injury forced guard Andy Rautins to miss the entire 2007-08 season and Eric Devendorf went down with the same injury in the 10th game of the season, Flynn ended up playing nearly every minute of every Big East game, averaging 39.2.

Overall, he averaged 15.7 points and had 53 steals and 185 assists to go with 95 turnovers to earn co-Big East rookie of the year honors.

All the hard work helped Syracuse post a respectable record through January, but the postseason every player dreams of faded when the Orange collapsed in February, losing five of six.

The most hurtful loss came in early March. Despite 28 points from Flynn, Pittsburgh rallied from 11 points down with under four minutes to play and defeated the Orange in the Carrier Dome. Syracuse rallied with victories over Seton Hall and nationally ranked Marquette in the final two games of the regular season, but Villanova beat the Orange in the first round of the Big East tournament.

Those two critical setbacks dropped Syracuse’s record to 19-13 and eliminated the team from consideration for an NCAA tournament berth.

Flynn did his part this season to help make sure that didn’t happen again. In 35 games he’s averaged a team-leading 17.5 points, 6.7 assists, and a paltry 37.2 minutes.

Just 6 feet and 185 pounds, Flynn possesses surprising strength and, coupled with his agility, can penetrate the lane almost at will or pull back for a fadeaway jumper. And he’s a deft and daring playmaker with an array of no-look passes that always seem to find their mark.

“I think my leadership out there on the court has meant a lot to our team,” said Flynn, a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given each year to the top point guard in the nation. “Me only being a sophomore and having guys two and three years older than me listen to me really does a lot for me as a person. It shows how much respect they have for me. I think I can improve on a lot of things, but I think I did a pretty good job this year.”

Flynn said last week that he intends to return for his junior season at Syracuse – unless the postseason provides an unexpected jolt for his aspirations to play in the NBA. Syracuse fans might want to take a good look at him if he continues to play at this level.

“We never talk about that,” Boeheim said. “I’m hopeful he’ll stick around.”


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