Duke's Quinn Cook, left, and Tyler Thornton celebrate following Duke's 66-60 win against Syracuse on Saturday in Durham.
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Duke's Quinn Cook, left, and Tyler Thornton celebrate following Duke's 66-60 win against Syracuse on Saturday in Durham.

THE ACC'S HOOPS DREAM: Duke-Syracuse could be a window into a memorable era

By Nick Piotrowicz

Sports Writer

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DURHAM – John Swofford must feel awfully satisfied with himself of late.

A week after bidding goodbye to Maryland, a longtime league foe, Duke played Syracuse on Saturday in a game very much rooted in the present, though the instant rivalry promises much more than current-era excitement.

Duke and Syracuse have started the beginning of what – at least through two games – looks to be an incredibly promising future for basketball in the Atlantic Coast Conference, of which Swofford is the commissioner.

Conference realignment was met with resistance from the old guard in college hoops, including Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, both of whom were plenty happy with the way their respective leagues used to be. Ultimately, Maryland departed the ACC and Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame joined, with Louisville on the way next season.

In the newly arranged ACC’s first year, Duke and Syracuse have played arguably the two most memorable games of the college basketball season, and neither game was like the other. The first meeting at Syracuse was offensive basketball at its best, replete with fast breaks, hot jump shooting, dunks, a buzzer-beater and a controversial call involving Duke’s Rodney Hood. The second was a territorial, possession-valuing game with a controversial call involving Rodney Hood.

On Saturday, Cameron Indoor Stadium had the energy of a Game 7 in the NBA playoffs, though the blue-painted students, small venue and relatively short season created an atmosphere unmatched at the pro level.

“Their celebration of basketball (at Syracuse) and our celebration of basketball here (were) phenomenal. It’s what makes our sport so good,” Krzyzewski said. “I love the NBA to death, but this is something they can’t do. We should all recognize that at Syracuse and here. That’s our product.”

Boeheim ultimately provided an encore to the regular season meetings with an Earl-Weaver-like tirade after Hood was awarded a questionable charge call with Syracuse down two in the final 15 seconds. Boeheim nearly ripped off his jacket, stormed well out on to the floor and shouted his displeasure (as well as a colorful handful of nouns and adjectives), receiving at least 10 times his money’s worth for the two technicals he was given.

That all but sealed the game. Even though Duke split the season series with the Orange, Boeheim echoed how excellent the games have been thus far, even if he still didn’t agree with the call.

“At the beginning of the year, if I could split with Mike, I would’ve taken it without hesitation,” Boeheim said. “It was two great games. People will remember this one for 30 years because the old coach went out there and got a little excited.”

Both coaches and many players agreed that the two games brought out the best from both teams.

Even though he had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, Duke star freshman Jabari Parker became somewhat of a footnote in the game.

Hood, even before the charge call, was key in Duke’s attack of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, which worked well enough in the second half to give Duke a slim lead it was able to protect.

Jerami Grant and C.J. Fair were markedly efficient for Syracuse, holding the Orange together even as Duke kept scoring.

Marshall Plumlee played his best half of basketball at Duke, giving the Blue Devils important minutes off the bench in the first half.

Parker usually is loath to talk about himself anyway, but he had good reason to focus on his teammates 

“I want it to be about every single one of these guys,” Parker said. “Everybody should be applauding (Hood) for his charge, and I do that too, and especially Marshall for his energy coming off (the bench) in the first half. It was a collective team effect, and that’s how the game is: It’s a team game.”

The players in the games eventually will change, and programs will rise and fall within the league and in the greater scope of college basketball.

While two good games do not guarantee anything in the long term, Krzyzewski took the broad view with the state of the ACC.

And in his opinion, the conference is building for good times. The painstaking movement in college sports put the ACC in position to be dominant, Krzyzewski said.

“I said it after our game up there (at Syracuse), our conference, after that game, should recognize the assets they were able to get,” Krzyzewski said. “Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, and then Louisville, are just the best assets in college basketball that any conference could get. Now we’re seeing why.”


Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz