As the final 4.6 seconds ticked off the clock in regulation, Rasheed Sulaimon evaded two Syracuse defenders, stared down the rim and exhaled as he shot. When the ball went through the net, a record-setting crowd of 35,446 at the Carrier Dome was rendered speechless.
Sulaimon's buzzer-beater sent the first-ever ACC matchup between Duke and Syracuse to overtime, where the No. 2 Orange prevailed against the No. 17 Blue Devils 91-89. Duke and Syracuse's long-awaited first ACC matchup lived up to the hype—it was an instant classic.
"I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game here that I can remember where both teams played at such a high level," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said.
Sulaimon finished with 16 points and six assists points off the bench and played his biggest basketball after the Blue Devils' two primary offensive contributors—freshman Jabari Parker and sophomore Amile Jefferson—had fouled out of the game.
In overtime, Jerami Grant hit a pair of free throws to give Syracuse (21-0, 8-0 in the ACC) an 88-87 lead with 39.1 seconds to play. With a chance to take the lead, Rodney Hood drove the lane and went up for a monster dunk. Hood sustained contact to his left arm and his dunk attempt clanged off the rim and bounded away.
Hood declined to comment after the game on whether or not that play should have been called a foul.
“This game is too good to talk about one play," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski added. "We were hoping there’d be contact, and then you hope that you finish it. It was a hell of a play. It’s a big time play."
Syracuse forward C.J. Fair had a field day with Parker and Jefferson on the bench with four fouls apiece, leading the Orange on a 12-3 run that appeared to have the Blue Devils on the ropes in the closing minutes of regulation.
Just when it all seemed lost for Duke (17-5, 6-3), Tyler Thornton re-entered the game and took over. The senior started the game but failed to find a groove early, playing just four minutes in the first half—but Thornton hit 3-pointers on three straight possessions to silence the Carrier Dome crowd and pull Duke to within two points with 4:22 remaining.
Parker re-entered the game with four fouls and made an impact quickly, finishing through contact to tie the game at 70-70 with 3:53 to go. Fair answered with a three-point play to give the Orange back the lead. The senior finished with a game-high 28 points, 17 of which came in the second half. Fair's partner on the block, sophomore Jerami Grant, added 24 points and 12 rebounds and made a number of big shots to keep his team in the contest.
“Fair and Grant were sensational—not good, they were sensational," Krzyzewski said. "Fair is a top pro pick... and Grant is going to be a pro.”
Parker spun along the baseline to lay it in with 1:42 remaining but was called for the offensive foul, forcing him out of the contest. A gutsy performance led the Blue Devils back into the game, as Sulaimon knocked down a three plus the foul with 47.6 seconds to tied the game at 75—but missed the free throw.
Jefferson was a key offensive piece for the Blue Devils, finishing with 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists on 6-of-10 shooting. Playing against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone, Jefferson took advantage of his position in the high post and helped to facilitate the offense. The Philadelphia native saw limited action at the end of the first half after picking up his second foul early. Jefferson was able to stay out of foul trouble until midway through the second half when he picked up his third and fourth fouls in the span of 56 seconds.
Parker took over at the high post, and despite his early struggles the standout freshman nailed a jumper plus the foul on his first touch after Jefferson exited the game. But Parker too would soon fall victim to foul trouble, picking up his third and fourth fouls minutes later and leaving the Blue Devils without a rim protector.
"We were scrambling a lot because of our foul trouble, and our kids scrambled well," Krzyzewski said. "They scrambled well enough to put us in a position to win."
Duke looks ahead to a quick turnaround and a home matchup with Wake Forest Tuesday night, but the Blue Devils will also have another shot at Syracuse when the Orange travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium in exactly three weeks.
Syracuse fans had billed Saturday's matchup as the beginning of a new ACC rivalry between the Blue Devils and Orange. With many Duke fans circling the teams' Feb. 22 rematch on their calendar, that game may have more hype to live up to than the first showdown.
“I think it’s great for our conference," Krzyzewski said. "Rivalry doesn’t have to be hatred—a great rivalry is built on respect. And a great rivalry is built on the respect of excellence."