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Syracuse-Duke thriller sets stage for exciting stretch run
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Syracuse and Duke have moved on from their epic battle in the Carrier Dome last Saturday. The regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference basketball race sits at the halfway point, and there are – figuratively and literally – miles to go before the league’s 15 teams convene in Greensboro next month for the 61st annual ACC Tournament.
But those lucky enough to be among the 35,446 in attendance and the millions more who watched live via ESPN spent the better part of this week buzzing about an extraordinary game that instantly earned its place as one of college basketball’s most memorable.
Even Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, who has coached in 1,256 games with the Orange and emerged victorious 942 times, knew he had been part of something special after his unbeaten outlasted the relentless Blue Devils for a 91-89 overtime win.
“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game here that I can remember where both teams played at such a high level,” Boeheim said. “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. “
Boeheim doesn’t advocate ticket scalping, but there was little denying that fans who went that route got what they anticipated.
“If you paid $3,400 on the market for a courtside seat, it was money well spent,” Boeheim said. “You should be happy that you did. And if you sold your tickets to this game, you should be ashamed because you made some money and missed an epic.”
Meanwhile, ESPN reported that the game averaged 4,745,000 viewers, making it the third-most watched college basketball game in the network’s history (the ACC also claims most-watched game, as the North Carolina-Duke contest on March 8, 2008, drew an audience of 5,612,000).
The game drew the highest shares in the North Carolina Triad and Research Triangle markets, and the telecast also set records in Buffalo (6.7 local rating) and New York City (2.8 rating) to rank as ESPN’s highest-rated regular-season men’s college hoops game in both markets (records date back to 2002).
The game also registered in the national rankings, where the unbeaten Orange moved up to No. 1 in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls. Syracuse’s ascension gave the ACC the No. 1 ranked teams in the sports of basketball, football and baseball for the first time since March 13, 2000 (add five Olympic sports, and the ACC entered this week with an eye-opening eight teams ranked No. 1 in current weekly, postseason or preseason polls).
And the Blue Devils, despite the loss at Syracuse, moved up six notches in this AP men’s basketball poll and five notches in the Coaches poll to No. 11.
Both teams responded in kind in their first outings following Saturday’s game. Syracuse, keyed by sophomore Trevor Cooney’s career-high 33 points, gutted out at 61-55 win over visiting Notre Dame on Monday night to move to 22-0 and extend its school record for the best start to a season. Duke returned home top score an 83-63 victory over Wake Forest on Tuesday evening behind freshman Jabari Parker’s 21 points.
During Tuesday’s postgame meeting with reporters, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted the emotions of the previous week – the Blue Devils won an ACC road game at nationally-ranked Pitt prior to facing Syracuse – had taken a toll. The Blue Devils took Wednesday off to rest and regroup before focusing on another road ACC road trip – this time to Boston College for an evening game this Saturday.
“We’re a tired basketball team,” Krzyzewski said. “We (need to) get refreshed and get going again to get up to Boston on Saturday night.”
THE SECOND HALF
Despite Syracuse’s 9-0 ACC start, the regular-season race remains tight at the halfway mark. Virginia enters the weekend just one game back of the Orange at 8-1, while Duke and Pitt both sport 7-3 marks in league play and Clemson stands 6-3.
Virginia’s ACC start is its best since the 1981-82 team began league play 12-1. For those looking ahead to a Virginia-Syracuse matchup, mark your calendar for March 1 (in Charlottesville), but both sides have far too much going on in the interim to look ahead.
For the Orange next up is Sunday evening’s important home game against fifth-place Clemson. For the Cavaliers, it starts with Saturday’s road trip to Georgia Tech, followed by a quick ESPN Monday night quick-turnaround game against rival Maryland.
Virginia’s strong run in the first half of the regular season has been sparked by redshirt sophomore Malcolm Brogdon, who has scored at least 16 points in each of the last seven games while contributing in nearly every other facet as well.
Brogdon’s strong run includes a game-winning shot in a Super Sunday win at Pitt and his first career double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds, plus seven assists) in Wednesday night’s win over Boston College.
After missing the last four games of his freshman season and all of last year due to a foot injury, the 6-foot-5 Brogdon was not on many observers’ radars as an ACC player to watch in preseason. But the Clinton, Md., native is making the impact his teammates expected.
"It's no surprise to us,” Cavalier sophomore Justin Anderson said. “He is a winner. He can do everything: he can run the ball, pass the ball, score, his ball-handling is great, and his hands are massive. He has a tremendous feel for the game, control over the ball, and his defense is getting better every game."
Following this weekend’s busy ACC schedule, next week features a Rivalry Wednesday, as Duke travels to North Carolina (winner of four straight heading into Saturday’s road test at Notre Dame), while Syracuse travels to Pitt in a rematch of the Jan. 18 game at the Carrier Dome (a 59-54 Orange win).
Looking further ahead, Syracuse makes the return trip to Duke on Feb. 22. The final weekend of the regular season (March 8-9) will include the second Duke-UNC matchup on Saturday night from the Blue Devils’ Cameron Indoor Stadium, a 9 p.m. contest that will culminate the 2014 season’s final ESPN College GameDay Covered by State Farm.