SYRACUSE, N.Y. This is what college sports are all about, at least in Mike Krzyzewski’s eyes. It’s the tradition that separates the college game from its professional counterpart, and with Duke and Syracuse, the programs built by Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim, the biggest stage is set.
The game that was played – a 91-89 overtime win for the undefeated Orange – is the type of game that’s befitting to kick off a new conference rivalry, with two of the best programs set to duel for years to come. Fantastic games and great performances will likely continue in this new rivalry. No matter what greatness follows it, this game will always be remembered and never overshadowed.
Rasheed Sulaimon’s off-balance 3-pointer that beat the regulation buzzer will be replayed countless again and again. Maybe, too, will Rodney Hood’s one-handed dunk attempt with 13 seconds remaining in overtime and Duke down by one. The referees ruled it was blocked by Rakeem Christmas, and the Orange was able to seal the game at the free-throw line.
“Rodney made a heck of a play. A big-time play,” Krzyzewski said. “The operation was a success but it didn’t end up exactly well.”
Syracuse students started camping out on Jan. 19, nearly two weeks ago. In total, 35,446 fans packed the Carrier Dome, a new on-campus record for Division I basketball attendance. “Beat Duke” signs could be found in the airport, on city buses and on electronic billboards dotting the highways. And with nine minutes to go, it certainly looked like the No. 2 Orange (21-0, 8-0 ACC) were going to beat the No. 17 Blue Devils (17-5, 6-3).
Amile Jefferson, Jabari Parker and 3-point specialist Andre Dawkins all had four fouls. Parker’s third and fourth had come with one second in between them, with 10 minutes, 45 seconds left on the second-half clock. It had looked like he could take over Jefferson’s role in the high post, an essential position to beat the Syracuse 2-3 zone.
Jefferson had been Duke’s most effective player on offense for the first 29 minutes of the game. When he excited after his fourth foul – with 11 minutes, 27 seconds remaining – with 14 points (6-of-9 from the floor), seven rebounds and four assists. Parker, who had been running cuts along the baseline, took over the high post on the Blue Devils’ next offensive possession, but then his foul trouble came a few seconds later. Just over a minute later, Andre Dawkins would join them on the bench after picking up his fourth foul.
When asked how difficult it was to lose Parker and Jefferson, Duke’s two best options for the high post, Krzyzewski responded, “What scale do you want me to measure it on? Is it like pain threshold, 1 to 10? It’s a 10. You’d rather have your best players in there.”
But despite Duke’s shorthanded and undersized lineup, the Orange weren’t able to pull away. Instead, Duke hung in there, thanks in large part to three straight 3s from an unlikely source, Tyler Thornton – a season-high from him. All three came from the wing, not the customary corner look he prefers.
Jefferson, Parker and Dawkins all took turns playing with four fouls down the stretch. With Duke trailing 73-70, Parker was called for an offensive foul – his fifth. He went to the bench for the final time with 1:42 remaining in the second half. Cook was able to cut the deficit to one with 1:23 to go in regulation thanks to two free throws.
Tyler Ennis, the point guard who has excelled in the clutch all year for Syracuse, put in a floater, but Rasheed Sulaimon made an off-balance 3-pointer, falling to the ground as a result of a Trevor Cooney foul. He missed the free throw that would have put Duke up by one. Instead, more free throws ensued, setting up the final shot in regulation, with Duke trailing 78-75, out of timeouts. Five seconds remained.
Sulaimon brings the ball down the floor the quickest, Krzyzewski said, so the ball went to him.
“Coach just told me to get the ball in and push it in transition and try to make a play. When I crossed halfcourt I saw a 3 open up, and I just took it with confidence. I thought it was good the whole way.”
Sulaimon paused. He sighed.
“I’m just so disappointed we didn’t win this game,” he said. “I thought we fought hard.
“We were still right there in the game. We thought we played good enough to win. We thought it was destiny for us to win.”
The overtime plan, with no Parker or Jefferson, who fouled out with 31 seconds left, was to trade 3s for 2s, Krzyzewski said. That’s what he thought it would take to win.
And he was almost right. The Blue Devils were ahead with one minute to go, but, ultimately, their inability to stop Jerami Grant from scoring in the paint at will – six of his eight overtime points were finished with a dunk – outweighed their 2-of-5 shooting from deep. Duke did finish with a season high 15 3s, on 36 attempts (41.7 percent).
“We played our hearts out,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean, geez, I can’t ask my team to play any harder than the way they played tonight.”
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less