Jim Boeheim’s first trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium was a memorable one, but for all the wrong reasons.
While his Orange appear to have little more than pride to play for at No. 4 Duke, Syracuse can effectively end the Blue Devils’ ACC title hopes Saturday.
The teams played two taut, tense battles in a three-week span last season as Syracuse (18-10, 9-6) had its first go-round in the conference. The Blue Devils (25-3, 12-3) gained a split with a 66-60 win in Durham, but the lasting images were Boeheim charging onto the court in a flying rage and getting ejected after C.J. Fair was called for a charge, negating a layup that would have tied the game.
Boeheim called the foul "the worst call of the year" and added he "hated to see the game decided on that call."
While Duke is trying to nail down a potential No. 1 seed for the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Syracuse will miss out on the postseason after a self-imposed ban for NCAA violations. The last nine games since that decision will amount to a bittersweet farewell tour for senior center Rakeem Christmas – averaging team highs of 18.1 points and 9.3 rebounds that also rank in the top four of the ACC – but the Orange have won two of three since an 80-72 home loss to the Blue Devils on Feb. 14 and are coming off a 65-60 win at No. 9 Notre Dame on Tuesday.
”We’ve played good for a long time,” said Boeheim, two victories shy of increasing his NCAA record for most 20-win seasons to 37. ”We’re playing about as well as we can play.”
Christmas had 14 points and 12 rebounds in 28 minutes before fouling out, the fewest minutes he’s logged since playing 23 against Boston College on Jan. 20 – also a victory in which he fouled out. Christmas was limited to 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting and six rebounds against Duke, which outrebounded Syracuse 42-32.
Christmas was outplayed by Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, who finished with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds, and the 6-foot-11 center shook off an ankle injury to finish with 30 points and nine rebounds Wednesday when the Blue Devils outlasted Virginia Tech 91-86 in overtime. Quinn Cook played the full 45 minutes and added 26 points while hitting six 3-pointers.
”We finally participated at the level we needed to do to be worthy of winning,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ”I’m glad we turned it on for the last 15 minutes of regulation and then overtime.”
Cook has been turning it on seemingly all the time, and that has been out of necessity. In the eight games since the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke has gone 8-0 as Cook has averaged 39.8 minutes – sitting only 12 minutes – and 19.8 points while shooting 46.6 percent from 3-point range and 51.5 overall.
”I just think our continuity on the floor, our chemistry has been great,” Cook said. ”Myself and Tyus (Jones) work together in transition. Obviously, Jah gets all the attention, so just playing off him, guys shooting the ball with confidence – it’s just a team effort."
Cook has stepped up further in the last five victories, averaging 23.6 points on 53.5 percent shooting while playing 209 of a possible 210 minutes. Syracuse is the only team to hold him under 20 points in that span, but Cook still finished with 17 and five assists.
”We’re playing with no regrets right now,” he said.