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Syracuse men’s basketball: looking back at top moments against Duke

We’re revisiting some of the best games in the Cuse/Duke rivalry before the final matchup against Coach K

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

It’s kind of hard to believe that the Syracuse Orange and Duke Blue Devils have only met 18 times. Yes, their rivalry didn’t truly kick in until Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a lot of history between the two programs already. We took a look at some of the best Orange moments in Cameron already, but before Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski coach against each other one final time, let’s take a look back at how this showdown came to be.

The Early Days

The first matchup between Syracuse and Duke was all the way back in 1966, during the Elite Eight. That was so long ago that the three-point line hadn’t been established yet, and Jim Boeheim was actually playing for SU - he dropped 15 points in the 91-81 loss. The Orange got in the win column against Duke on December 28, 1971, with a 74-72 victory.

Fast forward to December 6, 1989, for the first meeting between Boeheim and Krzyzewski. It was a battle of two juggernauts as No. 1 Syracuse took down the No. 6 Blue Devils 78-76. One final non-conference matchup happened during the 1998 Sweet Sixteen, an 80-67 Duke win.

Welcome to the ACC

The Orange started off the 2013-14 season with an insane 20-0 run. Then on February 1, 2014, this instant classic made it 21-0.

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The game was a tug-of-war match until the very end. Syracuse held a slim 78-75 lead with just four seconds to go, but Rasheed Sulaimon beat the buzzer to send Duke to OT. Jerami Grant threw down a trifecta of dunks and Duke’s Quinn Cook missed the game’s final shot, as the Orange remained unbeaten with a 91-89 win. C.J. Fair led the Orange with 28 points, and Grant backed him up with 24 points and 12 rebounds. The game also set the precedent of gigantic crowds - 35,446 people piled in to break the NCAA single-game attendance record.

The Rematch: Duke Dethrones the Dream Team

On February 22, only three weeks later, the two juggernauts were at it again. Syracuse had jumped from No. 2 to the No. 1 team in the country, while Duke also rose from No. 17 to No. 5. The Orange had lost their unbeaten streak to Boston College but had a chance to right the ship at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

That didn’t happen. It was another down-to-the-wire contest, and this time, it was Syracuse that needed the game-tying shot. With ten seconds to go, C.J. Fair went up for a layup but was called for an offensive foul. This made Coach Boeheim go ballistic (and created one of the best gifs to ever exist).

The charging call could very well be the turning point in that season. Syracuse lost 66-60 after Boeheim’s ejection, and the team wound up bouncing out in the Round of 32.

Gillon Downs the Devils

February 22, 2017, remains my personal favorite memory of Syracuse Basketball (keep in mind, I was 2 when they won the ‘03 Natty). In basketball, nothing’s better than a buzzer-beater to win the game, and that’s exactly what happened here.

Once again, 35,446 packed the Dome to see the Orange battle their No. 10 ranked rivals. And as these games tend to be, this one was close. Tyus Battle was starting to come into his own as a freshman, but the story here was John Gillon. Down two with under a minute to go, Gillon buried a floater to knot things up at 75. Then after a missed jumper by Luke Kennard, Gillon stepped up again and drained a 3 as time expired, sending the home crowd into a frenzy and securing a 78-75 victory. The senior finished with 26 points in the massive upset.

Duke v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Not-so-Sweet Sixteen

Forgive me for blowing through this one. In, wouldn’t you guess it, a nail-biter, the Orange fell 69-65 to the Blue Devils on March 23, 2018. Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett, and Marek Dolezaj all finished with double-digits in the losing effort.

Cuse crashes the party in Cameron

In what has to be revenge for when they were knocked out of the No. 1 seed, Syracuse finally returned the favor to Duke on January 14, 2019. It wasn’t easy: the Blue Devils showed why they were a 17-point favorite, with the two-headed monster of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett combining to put 58 on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Tyus Battle led the Orange with 32 points, and Paschal Chukwu had a very underrated performance. In addition to his 18 rebounds, Chukwu got the last four points of the game for the Orange, breaking the tie and securing a hard-fought 95-91 win.

Syracuse v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Another Attendance Record not enough

Unfortunately, a No. 1 team doesn’t tend to roll over and die. On February 23, 2019, the Blue Devils struck back. R.J. Barrett scored 30 points, Alex O’Connell added 20 of his own, and Duke triumphed 75-65. While Syracuse couldn’t pull off the magic twice in one season, it did manage to squeeze in a few more people to watch the game. This time, 35,642 flooded the Dome in what remains the largest on-campus basketball crowd in college basketball history.

This game started a five-game winning streak by Duke in head-to-head matchups. Here’s hoping Syracuse can end the war with Coach K on a high note and manage another upset.

What are some of your top memories from the Syracuse-Duke series so far?