Devils’ Advocate
by Matt Michael - Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
The epic SU-Duke game ushers a new college basketball rivalry

When 10-year-old Billy Pabst, of Scranton, Pa., received a ticket to the Duke-Syracuse University basketball game as a Christmas present, he said he “almost fainted.”

Join the club, Billy. There were 35,445 other fans were who were feeling a little dizzy, too, after the first Atlantic Coast Conference game between the Orange and Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome. In what can be described as nothing less than an instant classic, No. 2 SU outlasted the 17th-ranked Blue Devils 91-89 in overtime Saturday, Feb. 1, before an NCAA on-campus record crowd of 35,446 fans at the Dome.

The game had it all: the frenzied crowd; the two most successful coaches in Division I history (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and SU’s Jim Boeheim); two of the nation’s top freshmen (Duke’s Jabari Parker and SU’s Tyler Ennis); a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon to send the game into overtime; an Orange rally from a three-point deficit in OT; and SU’s school-record 21st consecutive victory to start the season.

Whew.

“If you paid $3,400 on the market for a courtside seat, it was money well spent. You should be happy that you did,” Boeheim said. “And if you sold your tickets for this game you should be ashamed, because you made some money and missed an epic.”

“How many people are in games like this?” Krzyzewski asked. “Hardly anybody.”

Perhaps 30 years from now, when local sportswriters and broadcasters are analyzing the history of Duke-SU, they’ll point to Saturday’s game as the one that started a rivalry that—dare we say it—surpassed the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry for drama and intensity.

“You know, a rivalry doesn’t have to be hatred,” Krzyzewski said. “A great rivalry is built on respect. And a great rivalry is built on the respect for the excellence of your opponent. That’s why we’ve had a great rivalry with North Carolina.”

Move over, Tar Heels: The ’Cuse is in the house. SU’s game at Duke on Feb. 22 has become the must-watch game of the year in college basketball.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” SU’s C.J. Fair said after scoring a career-high 28 points against the Blue Devils. “This rivalry seems like it’s been going on for 30 years, but this is just the beginning.”

“It was incredible, a great game between two of the best teams and programs in the country,” added SU’s Jerami Grant, who scored eight points in the overtime session. “And to have all the fans come out and support us, it really provided for an amazing environment. You can’t go anywhere else and have this kind of atmosphere.”

He’s got that right. SU season-ticket holder John Groat, of Syracuse, said for SU fans the Duke game was “the Super Bowl.” That Super Bowl-like atmosphere kicked off in the morning, when about 5,000 fans came to the Dome for ESPN’s College GameDay show.

Chris Michaenzie, 20, of Foxboro, Mass., was one of the SU students who entered the Dome at about 6:45 a.m. Saturday for GameDay and didn’t leave until the game ended about 14 hours later.

To get the best student seats for the game, Michaenzie and three of his friends–fellow SU students Sam Hauser, Ethan Schafer and Brett Lampman–took turns camping out for two weeks in freezing temperatures at the “Boeheimburg” tent city outside the Dome. Their strategy worked, as they ended up in the second row of the student section behind the basket.

“It’s worth the experience,” Michaenzie said. “Who knows when this is going to happen again?”

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Groat and his friend Denis Hickey, of Camillus, own season tickets in the bleachers opposite the benches, and you’ve probably seen them on TV: They’re the guys who’ve been wearing the Boeheim masks with sunglasses for the past three seasons. Wearing their masks and “I Bleed Orange” T-shirts, Groat and Hickey arrived at the Dome early Saturday and hung out on the other side of the curtain, getting their pictures taken and clowning around with fans.

“I love it,” Groat said. “It’s an orange circus today.”

The big top was quiet for only a few minutes, when Grammy and Tony award winner and SU alum Vanessa Williams sang the national anthem. And then the main event: Neither team led or trailed by more than seven points, the lead changed eight times, and the score was tied 11 times.

“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game here that I can think of where both teams played at such a high level,” said Boeheim, who has coached 1,255 games in his 38 years at SU. “You can have close games, tough exciting games. But I don’t think I’ve seen a game with two really good defensive teams, and it’s 91-89. Both teams just went after it. I can’t say enough about the quality of this game. It was the highest quality possible.”

Any fainting occurred when Duke’s Sulaimon sprinted upcourt and launched a 3-pointer that swished through the net as time expired in regulation. When Andre Dawkins sank the Blue Devils’ 15th and final 3-pointer of the game with one minute, 21 seconds remaining in overtime, the Orange found itself trailing 87-84.

But once again, the Orange found a way. SU outscored Duke 7-2 in the final 71 seconds as Grant, Ennis and Fair sank 7 of 8 free throws.

“We knew we would be fine,” Grant said. “They hit a couple of tough shots throughout regulation and in overtime, so it wasn’t all that shocking that {Sulaimon} was able to hit just one more. We just needed to regroup and compose ourselves for overtime, and I think we did a good job of that.”

Saturday’s game was the first matchup between Krzyzewski and Boeheim since they became the two winningest coaches in Division I history. Krzyzewski ranks first with 974 wins, while Boeheim is second with 941. Boeheim holds the record for most wins at one school (all 941), while Krzyzewski recently earned his 900th win at Duke.

Both coaches are enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, and they’re also best friends; Boeheim was an assistant under Team USA coach Krzyzewski when the United States won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.

“I try not to think about {the friendship},” Boeheim said. “I’m focused on Duke’s players. My two best friends are P.J. {Carlesimo} and Mike, and I coached against P.J. 22 or 23 times. {P.J. and I are} probably good friends because I beat him every time. This was just a great game. It was great to be a part of this game.”

“We’re coaching for our teams and schools,” Krzyzewski said. “There’s not like a twinge, you know. He wasn’t twinging, and I wasn’t twinging. We did both what we were supposed to do. We coached our butts off and our teams played hard, and we’re obviously still very, very good friends.”

Krzyzewski said his players “loved being here,” and he praised the SU fans for their dedication and enthusiasm. The crowd of 35,446–with fans stretched as far the corner at the opposite end of the Dome–smashed the on-campus record of 35,012 set last season when Georgetown visited the Dome for the last time as a Big East Conference opponent.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson ignited the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry by saying “Manley Field House is officially closed.” After Saturday, the Duke-Syracuse rivalry is officially opened.

“When it went into overtime, it was fitting,” SU’s Ennis said. “We just started a new rivalry, and it was a storybook ending for us.”

Orange Slices: SU, which was ranked No. 1 in the country in Monday’s poll, ran its winning streak to 22 Monday night with a 61-55 victory over Notre Dame before “only” 25,850 at the Dome. Trevor Cooney tied a school record with nine 3-pointers on 9-for-12 shooting and scored a career-high 33 points as the Orange overcame its Duke hangover to upend the Irish. SU needed every one of Cooney’s points as Grant and Fair, who combined for 52 points against the Blue Devils, scored a combined 15 points on 5-for-21 shooting against Notre Dame. SU’s next game is at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9,  against Clemson at the Dome.

Take a look at Michael Davis’ “Off Court” PHOTOSHERE