DURHAM, N.C. – For decades, visiting coaches have left the Gothic torture chamber of Cameron Indoor Stadium pissed off.
But nobody has ever gone out of here the way Syracuse's Jim Boeheim did Saturday on his very first visit. The 69-year-old's one-man court storm and subsequent ejection was a tour de force of tantrum behavior. The Hall of Famer's jumping, gesticulating, coat-flying, foot-stomping, finger-pointing, two-technical-foul fit with 10.4 seconds left in a 66-60 Duke triumph sets a new standard for ref-related meltdowns at Cameron.
"People will remember this one for 30 years because the old coach went out there and got a little excited," Boeheim said afterward, the rage from 15 minutes earlier having dissipated. "I think the fans will remember Jim Boeheim down here."
His postgame press conference was part snark and part laugh track, with zero regret mixed in. In the locker room later, Boeheim sat on a folding chair and chuckled as he looked at his phone. He seemed to be highly amused by the second ejection of his 38-year head-coaching career, the first of which came in an exhibition game.
Some of his Syracuse players were considerably less amused. That included C.J. Fair, whose driving baseline layup was waved off and ruled a charge – believed to be the one millionth block-charge call in Duke's favor in the Mike Krzyzewski Era – by official Tony Greene to set Boeheim off. (Around the Atlantic Coast Conference, coaches and fans had to be chuckling and saying to themselves, "Welcome to the ACC, Jim. Been there.")
Had the basket counted with no call, the game would have been tied at 60. Had the basket counted and it been ruled a blocking foul by Duke's Rodney Hood, who rotated over to defend, Fair would have been going to the line for the lead.
But even with the charge call, the game was not out of Syracuse's reach. The Orange would have been behind two and Duke would have been inbounding the ball against full-court pressure, and would have needed to make free throws on a day when the Blue Devils went 13-of-25 at the line.
Instead, Quinn Cook stepped up and made three out of four technical free throws to effectively end the game and give No. 1 Syracuse a two-game losing streak.
So I asked Fair if he thought Boeheim's blowup cost his team any chance to pull out the victory.
"Yeah," Fair said, after a short pause. "Maybe if we didn't get the tech we might get the chance to win.
"What did we lose by, five? (Actually six.) He made three of four free throws. You do the math."
Boeheim's fuzzy math: down two equals game over. When the whistle blew and Greene signaled charge, he believed Syracuse had lost its chance to win.
Hence the Lou Piniella-level outburst. Then it was on the postgame yuckfest.
"I just wanted to see if I still had it in me to get out there, and I did," Boeheim wisecracked. "I got out there pretty good. I thought I was quick, I stayed down, I didn't get injured, so all those things are good.
"That was the game-decider right there. We weren't happy with that call. … It was a great game, a tremendously well-officiated game, I just didn't agree with that call. I kind of thought we would lose the game. I don't know if I was really thinking that much at the time, but I thought it was the game-decider. I just thought it was the worst call of the year, that's all. I just hate to see the game decided on that call."
Thus America's best instant rivalry has ended both installments with bang-bang officiating decisions that went in favor of the home team and helped aid its victory.
Hood undoubtedly remembers the no-call that accompanied his driving overtime dunk attempt with 15 seconds left in overtime in the Carrier Dome three weeks earlier. Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas rotated over to contest Hood, and there was a collision of elbows before Christmas blocked the dunk with the side of his hand.
When asked after that game, a 91-89 Syracuse victory, Krzyzewski adamantly refused to make an issue of that no-call.
"This game is too good to talk about one play," he said at the time.
Boeheim volunteered to make an issue of Greene's call this time around.
"The new rule is it's a block," he said. "That's the new rule; we've had it explained a hundred times. C.J. got in his motion – I saw the replay – and the guy was moving. Simple as that."
Coach K, your thoughts on the play?
"I love the basketball gods today," Krzyzewski said. "They put Rodney in two defining plays. He was maybe fouled up there on the dunk, and the charge – I think it was a charge. One turned out great for us and one did not."
Duke-Syracuse has turned out great for basketball fans everywhere. The two teams have played 85 minutes of gripping, high-level basketball this season amid intensity-drenched atmospheres.
The game in the Carrier Dome, played in front of 35,446 fans, was a free-flowing offensive masterpiece. The game in Cameron, played in front of the usual packed-to-the-rafters crowd of 9,314, was trench warfare predicated on defense.
After being hit with 15 3s and 36 attempts three weeks ago, Syracuse tinkered with its trademark 2-3 zone to limit Duke's outside looks. The result was a 7-for-21 struggle from 3-point range that forced the Blue Devils to put Hood in the high post and run the offense through him there.
On defense, Duke devoured the Syracuse guard tandem of Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney. Those two combined to shoot 8-for-13 and score 28 points three weeks ago; Saturday night they combined to go 3-for-18 and score 13 points.
This was Cooney's third straight game scoring in single digits. And Ennis' previously pristine late-game play is starting to fray at the edges. As the minutes have mounted, it's fair to wonder if the young guys are hitting the wall.
For Duke, freshman Jabari Parker appears to have scaled that wall. His performance Saturday was his best in a while, punctuated by several spectacularly rugged plays in the second half. After committing a flurry of turnovers early, Parker rose to the challenge to produce 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"I thought he started out young, and got old real quick," Krzyzewski said. "The last 25 minutes he was a real man."
The fervent hope is that there is a Duke-Syracuse rubber match next month in Greensboro at the ACC tournament. Right now they'd be the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, with Virginia holding down first place, so a semifinal meeting could happen.
"We definitely want to get them again," Ennis said.
"I'd like to play them again," Fair said. "In the ACC tournament or the [NCAA championship]."
That's the spirit. How about a possible fourth matchup in, say, the Final Four? Given what we've been treated to so far, there is no such thing as too much Duke-Syracuse.