My Super Bowl started Saturday in Syracuse
Posted February 1
Updated February 2
With all due respect to that "other" big game in New York, Sunday's spectacle could get left in the dust in terms of entertainment by that classic in Upstate NY.
a) Apparently, anything outside of the "city" is declared the Upstate according to the folks from the Empire. From Albany to Binghamton to Buffalo to Syracuse.
b) Yes, I'm aware that Super Bowl 48 isn't actually being held in New York, but doesn't it sound that much more appealing instead of New Jersey?
At the risk of being called bias, for those who are unaware of my school ties, I am a Syracuse grad. My college experience started with rushing the Carrier Dome floor following a complete start-to-finish victory over defending national champions, UConn, and wrapped with absolute madness on Marshall Street sparked by Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. I credit the latter with my reassurance that I wanted to be in the broadcast news business. My first instinct following Hakim Warrick's swat, which helped seal a three point win over Roy Williams' Kansas Jayhawks in the 2003 title tilt, was to grab my camera and speed across campus. For those of us not fortunate enough to trek to New Orleans, the popular watch party was inside the Dome. I made it to "Anarchy Avenue" just quickly enough to watch what can only be described as an Orange wave. Think Indiana Jones, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" being chased by a horde of Hovitos, "Jacques! Start the plane!"
My orange allegiance aside, as a straight up fan of college basketball, I'd be hard-pressed to think we may witness a better game this season. In terms of talent, importance, atmosphere, what could possibly top it? On one hand, the undefeated, number two ranked team in the nation with a chance to set a school record for wins to start a season in Syracuse. On the other, a team showing renewed fire and passion, the likes of which we expected from, with a coach "at the top of his game," says Amile Jefferson, in Duke. The venue, only the largest on-campus game in NCAA history, as a record 35,446 saw the berth of a new rivalry. Not one based on proximity, ala UNC/Duke, or sheer hatred, ala Georgetown/Cuse, but rather, sheer prestige and history of both programs involved.
As I've been telling everyone ,well at least those who listen, that Duke was a downright bad matchup for Syracuse. The Orange make their bread-and-butter with the 2-3 zone, which is highly susceptible to be cracked from behind the arc. The Blue Devils knew it, and they jacked up treys early and often. It kept them in a game late in the second half when with Jabari Parker and Jefferson riding the pine, they should've been dead to rights. Trailing by seven, Tyler Thornton came off the bench and drilled back-to-back-to-back triples, and all of a sudden, we've got a ballgame. Of course, the biggest bomb dropped came from the hand of a guy you had to feel good for. Rasheed Sulaimon had such a streak of hard luck at the beginning of the year, that some started to doubt if he'd ever be the same player we saw flashes of brilliance of in 2012-13. Trailing by three, with four seconds left, Sulaimon drove the floor, skillfully avoiding a foul, which would've put him at the line for a useless two, and put up a prayer answered at the horn. That came just seconds after the previous hero, Thornton, looked like he might be the goat, after unselfishly making an extra pass under the basket to Andre Dawkins which resulted in a turnover, instead of what could've been an easy bucket for No. 3.
While the collective air might have been let out of the Dome, I can assure you that one member of Orange Nation appreciated it. He sits just a few feet from Jim Boeheim. That being, my fellow-Scrantonian, McNamara, who once pulled a similar move in the 2006 Big East Tournament against Connecticut. A dagger that came one day after his game-winner against Cincinnati and one day before, his ridiculous feed to Eric Devendorf to drop Pitt, en route to being the first team to win four games in four days in the now-heavily mutated league history.
Sadly for Duke, their 15 three's couldn't atone for the most important category on the stat line Saturday, fouls. Between Parker and Jefferson fouling out in regulation and Dawkins sitting on four PFs, no one could stand toe-to-toe with the Orange's inside game. Jerami Grant flat out abused the interior in overtime and the "Ole" style defense, which was present during the final six minutes since Jabari and Amile didn't want to risk picking up number five, enabler the stronger, more physical Orange to do their dirty work in the paint while Duke would have to make hay from outside. From there, it became a numbers game, as Parker/Jefferson/Dawkins, who accounted for 43 of the Devils' points, could only watch the conclusion from the sideline. In a battle decided by fouls, maybe it was the one that went uncalled that sealed it for Duke. As Rodney Hood lifted off to what potentially could've been the game-winning dunk, he was met by two hands. One on the rock, one on his forearm. Almost simultaneously. The referees kept their whistles tucked away. Good call, bad call, too close to call? Whatever way you want to slice it, it provided one more talking-point for a 91-89 overtime Syracuse win that will likely be remembered as a classic.
"There's never been a game as good as this one," SU coach Jim Boeheim beamed immediately afterward. "Duke played phenomenally. It's just a great game, in a great place, and I'm just proud to be part of it."'
Just think too, this is only round one! Round two comes in exactly three weeks inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. Approximately 26,000 fewer fans will be in attendance, but imagine the atmosphere. Now that the two winningest coaches in NCAA Division I Men's Basketball history have film against each other to review, what adjustments will be made? Two icons of coaching, legends of the game, good friends at that too, Team USA Basketball compadres.
"He's too good," laughed Boeheim, in regards to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "I don't like coaching against him."
As of a few days ago, some sites had tickets for the February 22nd clash in Durham going for $900. They won't be that cheap after tonight.
Currently listening to: Muse - "Time is Running Out"