The first installment of Duke-Syracuse was an instant classic. The sequel was just as good.
“People will remember this one for 30 years,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “Because the old coach went out there and got a little excited.”
Well, yes, No. 5 Duke’s 66-60 win over No. 1 Syracuse will be remembered for how it ended, with Boeheim running out onto the court, swinging his right arm and jabbing his index finger, repeatedly screaming profanities at officials before drawing a double technical and automatic ejection. He was whisked off the court with a police escort. That was his reaction to Rodney Hood drawing a charge on a C.J. Fair drive with 11 seconds left and the Orange down by two.
Boeheim said afterward that he thought the game was, “extremely well-officiated, as well as we’ve had all year. I make jokes,” he said to more than a few raised eyebrows, “but that’s not a joke.”
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When talking about the charge call in particular, though, Boeheim, who was affable and thoughtful, the opposite of the ball of fire that had to be removed from he court, did say this: “I just thought it was the worst call of the year, that’s all.”
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had a different take, naturally: “The basketball gods, they’re the best,” he said, before saying, yes, he thought that was a charge on Fair.
So did Hood.
“I thought I was there,” he said. “I stepped over, before he got in stride, I think. I haven’t seen a replay but I thought I was there. He didn’t stop, he ran right into me, so I think it was a charge. They called it a charge, so it’s a charge.
“I was shocked. I thought I was there, but I didn’t expect it, especially with the game being that close, a one-possession game at that time.”
But Duke-Syracuse II was much more than just one play, just like the Feb. 1 meeting in the Carrier Dome was more than just the no-call on a Rakeem Christmas block of a Hood tomahawk dunk attempt (“the dunk that was maybe a foul up there,” Krzyzewski said). It was a game that featured seven ties and eight lead changes, a back-and-forth affair during which neither team ever led by double digits.
After Duke wilted, physically and mentally, in the second half of the loss at North Carolina on Thursday, a frustrated Krzyzewski said his team didn’t have “it” and better find “it” before Saturday. Mission accomplished.
“It was the toughness,” Krzyzewski said. “In other words, there’s no alternative. You fight through everything,” and then went on to compare it to a mother’s sense of urgency to do whatever it takes to defend her child.
Basically, for Duke, it was a Big Game, and historically, Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils do not lose Big Games in Cameron. It was like the 69-65 win against Virginia on Jan. 13 – still the Cavaliers’ only ACC loss – when Duke was 1-2, licking its Clemson Tigers-inflicted wounds, and in desperate need of a win. This was the answer to the lackluster performance at North Carolina – Duke hasn’t lost back-to-back regular-season games since Feb. 2009.
“This is the reason you come to Duke,” Hood said. “It’s the reason I left my home state to come here, to play on TV and play in a big-time environment, play against the top five teams in the country, battle it out on your home floor. That’s what it’s about.”
Tactically, Krzyzewski essentially flipped Hood and Jabari Parker, sending Parker out to the perimeter and Hood inside as the designated high-post flasher, right around the free-throw line, the hole in the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Hood finished 6-of-15 for 13 points, with seven rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. His floater after driving from the high post with one second left on the shot clock answered back-to-back Syracuse baskets that had cut the lead to two points with less than three minutes to go.
Parker scored a team-high 19 points, going 6-of-9 from the field and 3-of-3 from 3-point range. Defensively, the Blue Devils committed to better defending high, flat screens designed to get Tyler Ennis the ball as he ran one way with a head of steam – Duke’s bigs were not to funnel him in the direction of his momentum – and Ennis finished 2-of-13 from the field, with nine total points.
One Duke post player in particular, Marshall Plumlee, had a monster first half, with four points, five rebounds, three blocks and an assist in 15 minutes (he had played 10 total minutes in the first meeting), with plenty of beautiful moves, to borrow a phrase Krzyzewski once used to describe brother Mason. And when he wasn’t out-muscling the Orange on the court, he was crushing some orange (Gatorade) on the sideline, where he remained for most of the second half with leg cramps.
“He’ll have to get used to playing more minutes,” Krzyzewski said, with a smile, one of many he flashed in his postgame presser. And why not. His team had knocked off a No. 1-ranked opponent in the regular season for the first time since 1997 (Arizona in the Maui Invitational). The four-games-in-eight days stretch was over, with Duke 3-1. And the last one was one for the ages, a worthy sequel to the epic under the Dome.
“At the beginning of the year, if I could split with Mike, I would’ve taken it with no hesitation,” Boeheim said. “It was two great games.”