In the most anticipated game of the season, the Syracuse Orange hung on to beat the Duke Blue Devils after Rasheed Sulamon hit a three to push it to overtime in front of 35,446 fans. The Orange hit free throws and had career nights by both C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant while forciing Duke's Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson to foul out in the second half.
The first conference game between two of the best teams in the country proved to be an epic battle to remember and Syracuse came out on top, surviving a barrage of three pointers by Duke.The Blue Devis went 15-36 (42%) from three, but Syracuse countered by shooting 57% from the field and going 26-32 from the charity stripe.
*Dear NBA: Enjoy These Guys!*
C.J. Fair dominated offensively, especially in the second half en route to 28 points, 2 blocks, and 5 rebounds. Fair scored from everywhere, shooting 12-20 from the field, by taking advantage of defensive matchups againt's Duke's second string. This was C.J.'s most complete game of the season, keeping a record crowd on their feet all night. He put up a highlight dunk drive and several jump shots in the defining game of his colege career, quieting any doubts critics has about turnovers or an offensive ceiling. I look forward to C.J. doing this against the Heat next year, just like our friend Michael Carter-Williams.
Jerami Grant was equally impressive with a 24 point and 12 rebound double-double, and finished by dominating overtime with 8 of of Syracuse's points in the final 5 minutes and making it look easy. Jim Boeheim decided to give him the ball late in the game against Duke's Andre Dawkins, who had 4 fouls. Did he dunk the ball? Why yes he did. A lot. Grant also went 10-10 from the Free Throw line and 7-11 from the field, and was a constant factor on both sides of the ball.
You could count the number of Syracuse mistakes on one hand. The Orange had 2 turnovers in the second half and neither were by Ennis or Cooney, who handled the ball well against constant man-to-man pressure. Both teams played tremendously , and Syracuse's performance featured the whole cast. Tyler Ennis hit several runners and also hit all 8 of this free throws, most of which were in crunch time, to finish with 14 points and 9 assists. Trevor Cooney nailed both of this three pointers, also finishing with 14 points.
Rakeem Christmas also played excellently with 7 points, but more importantly 10 rebounds and 6 blocks. Christmas was a force on the interior, and his normal emotional reactions led to several key fouls on Duke's key personnel. Baye Keita had 6 rebounds and 2 points in his 11 minutes, but Rak was the key big man all game. Michael Gbinije got into the act in the first half, thwarting his Duke counterparts from the outside, and even Tyler Roberson finished with an ESPN highlight fast break dunk.
The referee crew, featuring our nemesis Karl Hess, called ticky-tack fouls all night. However, they set a tone early and called a very consistent game. Syracuse took advantage of Duke's foul trouble, and was able to benefit from the tightly called game. Duke only had two interior options, and once they hit the bench, the Blue Devils relied on the three point shooting.
One of the Achilles of the 2-3 zone is three point shooting, and Duke was able to hit them all night. Sulamon's three pointer to tie it at 78 at the end of regulation was devastating, but the Orange still seemed to keep the momentum into overtime.
This was the big one. The rematch at Cameron will be equally exciting, but this was the one to win. Syracuse moves to a school record 21-0 in front of the biggest crowd ever, in the first game ever between a blooming top notch rivalry.
In a classic trap game, Syracuse returns to the Dome on Monday vs a beat-up Notre Dame team that has a habit of ruining perfect seasons. Until then fellow Juicers, LET'S! GO! S! U!
PS: Dear Dan Dakich - Remember when you said we were going to get crushed by Duke today? Don't they pay you to watch college basketball? Ask Seth Davis, don't bet against us.