I mean, really, what more is there to say after No. 2 Syracuse’s 91-89 overtime win over No. 17 Duke?
"I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game here that I can remember where both teams played at such a high level," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who has coached every game during the Carrier Dome’s 34-year existence.
"I can’t say enough about the quality of this game. It was the highest quality possible. If you paid $3,400 on the market for a courtside seat it was money well spent. You should be happy that you did. And if you sold your tickets to this game you should be ashamed because you made some money and missed an epic."
It was an epic, one that was basically impossible to squeeze into the small news hole I was given to sum it up (with about an hour to do so for the final edition, mind you). There was Duke’s foul trouble, with Jabari Parker, Amile Jefferson and Andre Dawkins each with four fouls with nine minutes, 27 seconds left in regulation.
"We didn’t have any size, and they had all the size," Rodney Hood said, accurately summing up the Blue Devils’ predicament (and that would ultimately doom them in overtime).
There were Tyler Thornton’s three 3s, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s off-balance 3 with a chance for a four point play. That was quickly overshadowed by Sulaimon’s buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime. And then there was Rakeem Christmas’s block of Hood’s dunk attempt, the one that left Mike Krzyzewski standing with his arms extended, making the universal sign for disbelief at the lack of a foul call.
"I saw an open lane, and I was in a position where I had to try to dunk it," Hood said afterwards. "I mean, I’m not going to comment on anything because I don’t want to get in trouble. I just tried to win and finish strong. I’m not going to answer that."
Krzyzewski was asked several times about the play, too, but he did his best to try to deflect attention away from it.
"This game is too good to talk about one play," he said.
My two cents: when you’re the second-best shot blocking team in the country and have blocked eight other shots to that point, you’re in a position to get the benefit of the doubt on a bang-bang play. Christmas was credited for the block—his sixth of the game.
His play was just one standout performance for the Orange. C.J. Fair scored a career-high 28 points on a 12-of-20 performance from the field. Duke couldn’t find an answer for him—Hood, Sulaimon and Parker all took their turns. None proved effective.
In overtime, Jerami Grant scored eight points—six were finished with dunks, and he registered the other two from the free throw line. With no Jefferson and no Parker, 6-foot-5 Dawkins and 6-foot-4 Sulaimon were stuck trying to guard the long, 6-foot-8 Grant.
It didn’t work.
"They had the little guards in there and he was able to post down low and get some buckets in the overtime," Boeheim said.
Grant finished with 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting and pulled down 12 rebounds as well.
But really: If I would have told you before the game Dawkins, Jefferson and Parker all would have four fouls with more than nine minutes remaining, would you have predicted a two-point Syracuse win in overtime?
"We’re scrambling a lot because of our foul trouble, and our kids scrambled well," Krzyzewski said. "They scrambled well enough to put us in a position to win. The last minute in overtime, we had an open 3 and we had a rim dunk. How can I, I can’t fault our guys. Just a tough loss."
***One last thought about that Hood dunk attempt at the end: great aggression on his part and willingness to drive the lane. Much improved from his end-of-game attempt at Notre Dame, where he was too out of control and drove to a point where he couldn’t get a shot up, instead turning the ball over on a pass attempt.
***The Orange were hoping to foul Sulaimon on his game-extending 3 at the end of regulation—they just failed to execute it.
"C.J. tried to get the foul," Boeheim said. "I didn’t take a timeout and tell everybody, I wasn’t sure with 4.6 (seconds remaining) coming all the way up, usually you have to take a throw, which they did, it just happened to go in."
In a similar situation in overtime, Sulaimon was quickly fouled by Tyler Ennis with nine seconds remaining and Duke down by three.
***Speaking of Ennis, the Orange point guard, what a player. Nine assists to just two turnovers and an 8-of-8 performance from the free throw line (that, with a 3-of-5 performance from the field, netted him 14 points).
He assisted on all three of Grant’s overtime dunks, correctly noting the mismatch.
"Tyler Ennis, there is nobody better I think in the end game situation, making plays, making the right decisions," Boeheim said."
Ennis’s assists-to-turnovers ratio is 3.9, the best mark for an ACC point guard.
A necessary note: back in October, of the 53 writers that voted for ACC Preseason Rookie of the year, 52 picked Parker. There was just one dissenter—colleague Joe Giglio, who picked Ennis. I happened to be standing there when he mentioned the voting to Boeheim.
"Then you’re going to be the only one that’s right," Boeheim said.
Well played, sir.
***Now about Duke’s point guard, Quinn Cook: he finished 2-of-12 from the field, and 1-of-8 from 3-point range, for seven points. He did record five assists, against no turnovers, in his 40 minutes.
But there was a stretch early in the first half, about four minutes into the game, where Sulaimon came in and ran the point. He had done this a few times early in the year, in garbage time at the end of already-decided games, but this look was new. Sulaimon did finish with a team-high six assists, and, obviously knocked down some big-time shots en route to a team-high 16 points.
Monday at Pitt, Cook came off the bench for the first time this year (yes, his ankles are sore; no, that’s not why he didn’t start against the Panthers). Dating back to the Virginia game (six games), Cook is 21-for-55 (38.2 percent) from the field and 8-for-29 (27.6 percent) from 3-point range.
Just to keep in the back of your mind: next year’s top-rated point guard, Tyus Jones, is a pass-first point. And he’s not coming to Durham to sit on the bench.
***ESPN seems to be full steam ahead with the Duke-Syracuse rivalry. And there’s no doubt the Orange fans are as well, given all the pregame build-up (the signs in the airport, on buses and on billboards throughout the city).
It already feels like a rivalry to the Syracuse players, too.
"t feels like the rivalry has been going on for 30 years already, so I’m looking forward to all the games to come," said Fair, who is a senior (so he’s guaranteed just one more game, Feb. 22nd in Durham).
Krzyzewski had some insight into the idea of a Duke-Syracuse rivalry as well.
"Rivalry doesn’t have to be hatred—a great rivalry is built on respect," he said. "A great rivalry is built on respect of excellence of your opponent. It’s why we’ve had a great rivalry with North Carolina, because they have such a high level of excellence in their program. Obviously Syracuse does, and we do. Those are great games."
Syracuse isn’t going to be the new Maryland—the Orange fans are never going to chant F— Duke so loud it’s audible on TV. That’s a rivalry built on hatred, and it wasn't one Duke fans of the post early-2000s era were eager to embrace.
This is different. This is an entire city that backs its basketball team (it’s not a town, like Chapel Hill, and it’s not a city with a testy relationship, to put it one way, with the small private school in its borders, like Durham). The cab drivers talk basketball. The people in the hotels are dressed in Syracuse blue and orange. It’s a special atmosphere, a cold-weather city lacking a professional sports team, so they’ve put all that energy behind the Orange.
One of the most storied college basketball programs wants to make your game, Duke fans, a must-see event, a game that’s going to capture the college basketball world for a day. Why wouldn’t you embrace that?