After playing 54 minutes 57 seconds of intelligent, grueling basketball this afternoon, Villanova handed Syracuse the Big East tournament championship in the third overtime, 83-80, in the Carrier DemiDome.

Syracuse forward Leo Rautins tipped in Erich Santifer's missed shot with three seconds remaining in the third overtime, giving Syracuse the lead, 82-80. Villanova called timeout to set up a play. After both teams came back onto the court, the Wildcats called another timeout -- one they didn't have.

That resulted in a technical foul against Villanova, putting Orangeman center Danny Schayes at the foul line. He sank the free throw for the final margin and Syracuse inbounded the ball to Schayes, who held it until time expired.

"I made the mistake of calling the illegal timeout," Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino said. "It's the first time that's happened in 25 years of coaching. It hit me the split second that I called it. We were planning to run some kind of trick play."

Tony Bruin, who fouled out in the first overtime, led Syracuse with 22 points and Santifer scored 18. Alex Bradley scored 21 points for Villonova; John Pinone scored 19 and had seven rebounds.

The victory likely will gain Syracuse a bid to the NCAA championship tournament for the ninth straight time. In winning the tournament, Syracuse defeated St. John's, Georgetown and Villanova, to whom it had lost twice during the regular season.

Syracuse had a chance to win the game at the end of the second overtime, but Rautins' 15-foot shot rimmed out and Eddie Moss' tip-in attempt rolled around the rim and fell out.

The first overtime ended, 70-70, after Villanova had its best chance to win the game. The Wildcats took a 70-64 lead with 2:20 to play.

Moss made a short jumper to cut the Orange deficit to four. After Wildcat center Pinone missed the first shot of a one-and-one, Schayes scored a lefthanded layup for a 70-68 Villanova lead, and Moss tipped in Santifer's shot, tying the game at 70 with 1:15 to play.

Schayes sank two free throws at 3:23 of the final overtime to give the Orangemen an 80-78 lead, but Stewart Granger's long jumper tied it at 80 with 1:10 remaining.

Syracuse threw the ball inbounds and ran the clock down to :08 before calling a timeout. Santifer shot from eight feet out on the left side, the ball bouncing straight up.

Rautins, the tournament's most valuable player, worked his way inside Wildcat front court men Bradley, Aaron Howard and Pinone for the soft, one-handed tap to give Syracuse the victory in front of more than 15,000 in the Dome.