It began with a bang: SU kicks off Duke rivalry with big overtime victory

C.J. Fair had a career-high 28 points as No. 2 Syracuse found a way to beat No. 17 Duke in front of a record-breaking crowd of 35,446 fans.

At one point during No. 2 Syracuse’s dramatic 91-89 overtime victory over No. 17 Duke Saturday, C.J. Fair looked up at the 35,446 screaming fans, turned to Jerami Grant and said, “This is awesome.”

Tyler Ennis did something similar. Ennis said he stopped for one minute and just looked around to see how many people were actually watching the game.

Photo: Lenny Christopher
Coach Jim Boeheim of the Syracuse Orangemen and Coach Mike Kryzewski of the Duke Blue Devils shake hands after the SU vs Duke game on Saturday.

Even head coach Jim Boeheim, who’s been a part of countless big games, said Saturday’s win was the greatest he’s ever had the pleasure of coaching.

“You can have close games and tough, exciting games, but I don’t think I’ve seen a game with two really good defensive teams and it’s 91-89,” Boeheim said. “I can’t say enough about the quality of this game. It was the highest quality possible.”

Not only did Syracuse (21-0, 8-0 ACC) beat Duke (17-5, 6-3) for the first time as a member of the ACC, but the Orange also set a program record, starting the season with 21 straight wins. And to top it all off, Fair scored a career-high 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting in front of a record-breaking crowd.

“C.J. Fair was just phenomenal tonight,” Boeheim said. “He broke out of that good, solid player and into a great player. He was a great player tonight.”

The senior forward proved to the nation why he was named the ACC Preseason Player of the Year. And he proved it on possibly the highest regular season stage of his four-year SU career.

“Coming into this game knowing it’s going to be one of the biggest games in history and for me to have a career night is an unbelievable feeling,” he said. “You live for moments like this.”

Going into the game, all the hype surrounded the freshmen. ESPN College GameDay analyst Jalen Rose picked both SU’s Ennis and Duke’s Jabari Parker to his All-Freshman team. But at the end of the day, it was the senior Fair who showed the youngsters how to play near-flawless basketball.

Fair led all players in scoring in the first half with 11 points, but really picked it up in the second half. With 10:06 left in the half, Fair scored six unanswered points in one minute to put SU up 62-57 with 9:05 to go in the contest. But the Blue Devils were never far behind. With Parker and Rodney Hood in foul trouble, Duke’s Tyler Thorton hit three straight three-pointers to keep Duke within two points of Syracuse with 4:25 left in the game.

The score remained that close for the final four minutes. Down three with five seconds left in regulation, Rasheed Sulaimon nailed the buzzer beating three pointer, sending the game into overtime.  

With 13 seconds left in the extra period, Rakeem Christmas heroically blocked Duke from taking a late lead, recording his sixth block of the night, this time on Hood.

“That last one was a big one, we needed it,” Christmas said. “It turned the whole game around and got us the win.”

On top of his notable six blocks, Christmas finished with a good night overall -- chipping in seven points and grabbing 10 rebounds, six of them on the defensive side.

“I think Rakeem (Christmas) was tremendous, he’s getting better all the time,” Boeheim said. “He’s becoming a great factor.”

Statistically, the Orange shot extremely well across the board. SU shot 57.4 percent on 31-of-54 from the field and 26-of-32 from the free throw line -- and if you factor in the 38 rebounds, 26 of which came on defensive -- Boeheim couldn’t have been happier with how his team played.

“I thought our players were unbelievable,” he said. “This team just doesn't seem to be bothered. They just come back and they make a play.”

One troubling factor, though, was perimeter defense. The Syracuse zone, while moderately susceptible to threes, averages around five three-pointers per game. Against Duke, the defense allowed triple that number, as the Blue Devils converted 15-of-36 from behind the arc -- none of which were more traumatizing than Sulaimon’s buzzer-beating three-pointer which sent the game into overtime.

In the end, it was the Orange who prevailed at home. The rivalry may have just begun, but after Saturday’s barnburner game, Fair said it felt like something greater.

“This rivalry feels like it’s been going on for 30 years,” Fair said. “But this is just the beginning. And for us to come out with the win like that is big.”

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.