Three weeks after a non-call on a Rakeem Christmas block helped Syracuse beat Duke in the first meeting between the two new rivals, another questionable decision by referees ended the Orange's hopes of winning the rematch.
Rodney Hood appeared to arrive late as he scrambled to close off C.J. Fair's lane to the rim with 10.4 seconds left in Sunday's game, but referees ruled that Hood established position in time to draw a charge. That call negated Fair's game-tying layup and incensed Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim enough to draw a pair of technical fouls and an ejection, enabling Duke to escape with a 66-60 victory.
Boeheim was adamant during his post-game news conference that Hood should have been assessed a block, telling reporters he thought it was "the worst call of the year." He cited the revised wording of the block-charge rule that forces defenders to be in position before the offensive player begins his upward motion.
Whether or not the charging call was correct, however, Boeheim clearly cost his team by flailing his arms wildly, running onto the court and furiously confronting the referees.
Had Boeheim managed to keep his composure, Syracuse would have trailed by only two and could have either gone for a steal on the inbound pass or fouled and hope the Duke free throw shooter missed at least one. Instead he gave referees little choice but to eject him, forcing him to endure a long walk to the locker room with a police escort while Duke's Quinn Cook sank three of four free throws to ice the game.
Syracuse's loss ends a disastrous week that began with the Orange unbeaten and No. 1 in both polls and ended with them not even in first place in their own league anymore. Thanks to Wednesday's stunning upset at the hands of woeful Boston College and Saturday's narrow loss at Duke, Syracuse now trails first-place Virginia by 1.5 games in the race for first place in the ACC.
The other issue for the suddenly reeling Orange is their stranglehold on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is loosening. Syracuse would surely be one of four teams on the top seed line were the season to end today, but the Orange still have challenging road games at Virginia, Florida State and Maryland remaining before the ACC tournament.
Syracuse might have been far enough in front to survive a questionable late whistle had it gotten more production from its starting backcourt.
Star freshman Tyler Ennis endured an uncharacteristic 2 of 13 shooting night and sharpshooter Trevor Cooney could not shake free from behind the arc and finished with only four points on 1 of 5 from the field. As a result, Syracuse shot under 40 percent from the field for the third straight game, a trend that puts too much pressure on the Orange's defense and offensive rebounding for them to consistently beat quality opponents.
Offensive rebounding and stellar defense kept Syracuse in striking distance during the second half, but the Orange had no answer for Jabari Parker.
The 6-foot-8 Duke freshman scored 19 points on only nine shots including a key jumper that put the Blue Devils ahead by three points with just 1:23 remaining. By outplaying Ennis and Fair on a big national stage, Parker also made a statement that he is most deserving of both freshman of the year and ACC player of the year.
Still, Parker's performance will not be the lasting memory from this game. What will be discussed and debated for days is whether the charging call on Fair was correct and whether Boeheim's reaction was warranted or not.