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No. 2 Syracuse beats No. 17 Duke in the Game of the Year

Feb 1, 2014, 8:40 PM EST

source: Getty Images

“We’ve had a lot of games in here that have been great, but there’s never been a game as good as this one.”

That’s what Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told Shannon Spake after the No. 2 Orange knocked off No. 17 Duke, which is a strong statement but one that Boeheim could very well be correct about. The hype entering this game was out of control — the two winningest college basketball coaches of all time, two storied programs playing their first game as ACC rivals, 35,446 fans in the Dome, I could go on and on and on —  but this was one of the rare occasions where the game was as good as the pregame show.

C.J. Fair led the way for the Orange, finishing with 28 points, while Jerami Grant added 24 points and 12 boards as Syracuse overwhelmed the smaller Blue Devils in the paint. But Duke countered, hitting 15 threes, pounding the offensive glass and putting five players in double figures.

And it played out to perfection.

The Orange would make a run pounding the ball into the paint. Duke would respond by hitting a couple of threes to get back into the game. Back and forth, over and over again, with the most notable stretch being the trio of second half three-pointers that Tyler Thornton hit on consecutive possessions to keep Duke within striking distance as Syracuse looked ready to pull away.

The crescendo came at the end of regulation, when Rasheed Sulaimon, who finished with 16 points and seven assists, went the length of the court to hit a three and force overtime:

The Orange would go on to win in overtime, the beneficiary of a somewhat friendly whistle down the stretch that allowed them to remain undefeated, but someone had to end up losing this game.

Focusing strictly on who ended up winning this game would belie a bigger point: what we saw at the Carrier Dome on Saturday was two teams capable of making the Final Four in Arlington playing about as well as they can play.

For the Orange, that meant feasting on the mismatches that get created when Fair and Grant are on the court together. Fair inparticular. He is the prototype combo-forward at the college basketball level. He’s a face-up scorer that’s big enough to score in the post, athletic enough to get his shot off against anyone and comfortable enough on the perimeter to cross a defender over and hit a pull-up jumper in his face. We saw his full arsenal on Saturday, and it was nothing short of impressive. The same can be said for Tyler Ennis, whose 14 points and nine assists were as unnoticeably sensational as always.

On the other side of the ball, the undersized Blue Devils scrapped for everything inch they could get. Whether it was the 14 points, seven boards (six offensive) and five assists from Amile Jefferson or the relentless of Jabari Parker attacking the rim despite getting swatted five or six times, the Blue Devils weren’t intimidated by the longer wingspans and bigger verticals of the Orange. At the end of the day, they fought hard enough that their 15 threes buoyed them, which is more or less what the goal for this Duke team has been all season long.

In the end, it all came down to one play: Rodney Hood driving the lane, down one with 15 seconds left, going up to try to dunk over Rakeem Christmas. Did he get fouled? Was it a clean block? We can debate it all day long, but the refs didn’t blow their whistle and the Orange escaped.

They head into the season’s stretch run without a blemish on their record. Duke sits three games back in the ACC standings but ahead of where they were at the start of the day — miles ahead of where they were at the start of the week — in the eyes of anyone with a semblance of basketball intellect.

The best news of all?

We get to do it all over again in three weeks, this time at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Good luck trying to get a ticket to that game.

  1. trapshoot - Feb 1, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    One hell of a game!

  2. rabbi187 - Feb 1, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    Very rare when a game meets the hype. As a non bias fan who doesn’t much care for Duke, the officiating was atrocious and one sided for the Orange.

    • anpsteel - Feb 1, 2014 at 10:08 PM

      That is nuts. The non call on Christmas against Hood was bad, but there were multiple bad and non- calls against both teams. Two of which were against Jerami Grant in key situations.

    • thebadguyswon - Feb 1, 2014 at 10:10 PM

      Yes it was. Horrendous work by the refs. Duke had twice as many team fouls (roughly). The non-call on Hood was a joke. That ref was watching six feet away and he swallowed his whistle.

      • drewvt6 - Feb 1, 2014 at 10:22 PM

        When you only attempt to drive inside 10 times in a game you can’t expect 15 fouls called. On the flip side, Syracuse attacked Duke’s big(man) weakness.

      • coachjac30 - Feb 1, 2014 at 11:26 PM

        A foul is a foul, regardless of whether you drive the ball to the basket 1 time or 100. Officials miss calls, that’s part of the game, but don’t say because they only drove to the hoop 10 times that matters. That’s like saying “look at the team fouls/free throw discrepancy”, utter garbage

    • toopenniesworth - Feb 3, 2014 at 10:42 AM

      you’ve obviously never watched a Duke game at home—it’s almost like they bring in alumni to ref–
      does’nt matter—over 1900 wins between these 2 coaches was a pleasure to watch as is–

  3. dred1889 - Feb 1, 2014 at 10:35 PM

    As a Duke fan you can’t complain about the number of fouls, because the Cuse were more aggressive around the rim (Parker the only guy for Duke).. But the Hood play was questionable, but I thought the worst call was the Parker 5th foul. That was an atrocious call, and they rewarded a flop when the game was pretty physical in the paint throughout the entire game

    • imwhitewolf - Feb 2, 2014 at 1:19 AM

      There should have been two technical fouls alone in the first half for hanging on the rim. One on Syracuse and one on Duke. Neither was called. There was a play in the second half where Duke got two offensive rebounds right under the basket, the players fouled, no call, but yet when ‘Cuse ran the ball down the floor their guard got a touch foul. As awesome as the game was the officials really SUCKED.

      Both teams showed their mettle tonight. Both teams are really good. It’s sad the officials had to decide the game.

  4. coachjac30 - Feb 1, 2014 at 11:31 PM

    Fouls are Fouls, regardless of when it happens, where it happens, or how many times you drive. By nature Syracuse tends to foul less because they play zone, so the discrepancy in free throws and fouls doesn’t matter. Well played game by two great basketball schools. Hopefully we get a chance to play again in the ACC tourney and/or the Big Dance

    • toopenniesworth - Feb 3, 2014 at 10:44 AM

      a true observation coach !
      (it will be a great contest in 3 wks also–)

  5. lawrinson20 - Feb 2, 2014 at 3:26 AM

    Not great officiating, but it was problematic on both ends. It may have seemed one-sided to duke fans because a few of those calls were on ”highlight’ plays. But a bad ‘hidden’ no call is just as significant.

    It’s also ridiculous to complain about Parker’s 5th foul. It was an obvious clear out move which would have given him an advantage if not called. More importantly, if both he and Jefferson had not been out of the game, the guys that replaced them would not have been able to hit all those threes down the stretch. Neither Parker nor Jefferson would have scored in that fashion.

    Bottom line, if any of those calls had gone differently, the remainder of the game would have gone differently. And that doesn’t necessarily equate to a duke win.

    Great game. I don’t think it was the best ever in the Dome, though. Certainly one of the most solidly played, and the 36k and media hype made it a spectacle.

  6. tictoccpthook - Feb 2, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    No foul when the ball is slapped out of the hands without other contact. Let’s Go Orange !

    • coachjac30 - Feb 2, 2014 at 2:53 PM

      except that he hit him with the body when he jumped into him which by definition is a foul. The fact they didn’t call it isn’t that big of a surprise, but to pretend like it couldn’t have been a foul is ridiculous

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