DURHAM – Down two with 12 seconds remaining, C.J. Fair beat Tyler Thornton on the left baseline and Syracuse’s chance to introduce itself to Cameron Indoor Stadium arose.
Then Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim received his official welcome to Cameron.
Rodney Hood stepped in front of Fair, who made a lay-up as contact was initiated – only for a controversial charge to be called on Fair. The Duke faithful erupted as Boeheim raced nearly to halfcourt to profanely dispute the call, an effort that landed him two technical fouls and an ejection.
And then it was a formality. No. 5 Duke hit free throws and waited out the clock, winning the anticipated rematch with the No. 1 Orange, 66-60, on Saturday.
“I wanted to see if I still had it in me to get out there, and I did. I got out there pretty good,” Boeheim joked after the game, shortly after adding that the call should have been a charge under the new rules. “I thought I was quick. I stayed down. I didn’t get injured, so all those things are good.”
Jerami Grant led Syracuse (25-2, 12-2 Atlantic coast Conference) with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Jabari Parker had a double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds for Duke (22-6, 11-4).
But, stars aside, it was a game very different from the offensive-minded overtime game at Syracuse, an Orange win in overtime. Saturday’s game was all about defense.
Despite shooting only 28 percent in the first half, Syracuse, led by Duke transfer Michael Gbinije, took control of the game in the first half with a 9-0 run midway through the half.
After that point, Duke responded. Hood hit a three, Parker hit a two and Rasheed Sulaimon scored on a fastbreak to tie the game at 26, where it stayed at halftime.
With both sides struggling to score with regularity, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made the key move by putting Hood in the center of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. The Orange stayed glued to shooters in response to the previous meeting, so Hood found a pocket where he changed the game.
“If I had to single out one kid, it’s Hood,” Krzyzewski said of the forward, who scored 13 points and had seven rebounds.
Duke trailed by two when the move paid dividends. Amile Jefferson hit a lay-up to tie the game at 41, then Parker made a basket plus the foul on a fast break. Hood made two shots in a row, Quinn Cook hit a three and Sulaimon made a jumper – and it was six straight possessions with a made basket to give Duke a six-point lead with 6:49 to go.
“The last game, they played us one-on-one, whoever flashed in the post,” Hood said of Syracuse’s defense. “We made the adjustment because, when Amile got it, they just spaced out, but when Jabari got it, they closed in on him, but when I got it, they went out, and like, four or five possessions in a row, I got the shot I wanted.”
From that point, it was about defense. Krzyzewski said neither team could have played harder. Boeheim said it was the best defense his team has played all season.
With possession after possession tightly contested, Grant hit a jumper that brought Syracuse within two with 3:30 to play. After Hood made a layup and Grant made a free throw, Trevor Cooney hit two free throws to cut the lead to one.
The two sides traded baskets, then Sulaimon made one of two free throws to set up Syracuse’s final possession with the shot clock turned off.
Fair, who scored 12 points, received the ball in the left corner and made his drive to the bucket.
The irony was that Hood went up for a dunk on Duke’s final possession of the game at Syracuse and was not given a foul call that looked warranted. Saturday, he earned a charge that was just as questionable.
“I thought it was a block or no call,” Fair said after the game.
“The basketball gods – they’re the best,” Krzyzewski said. “They put Rodney in the two plays, the two defining plays, the dunk that was maybe a foul (at Syracuse) and the charge – which I think was a charge. Anyway, he was in the play both times. One turned out great for us and one didn’t turn out great.”
That the big plays followed Hood was not a coincidence, he said. Hood said being involved in key plays is part of accepting pressure as a good player, and he said he’s happy to have the role.
“I’m starting to enjoy it,” Hood said. “I’ve been in (controversial plays) five or six times at the end of the game this year. I came up short sometimes and I came up big sometimes. That’s part of being one of the best players on the team.
“You have to take the chance every time.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com