Three weeks ago, Syracuse and Duke played the best college basketball game of the year in front of a record-setting crowd at the Carrier Dome. Saturday night's contest at Cameron Indoor Stadium was just as riveting, but the two games could not have been more different.
Perhaps the lone constant between the two contests: Rodney Hood's involvement in a controversial, game-deciding play. The redshirt sophomore's driving dunk attempt merited a play-on in overtime at the Carrier Dome, but Hood got the benefit of the doubt Saturday night, sliding over to draw a charge on a slashing C.J. Fair with 10.4 seconds remaining.
To say Orange head coach Jim Boeheim disagreed with the call would be an understatement. The 69-year-old stormed onto the court, unleashing an expletive-laden tirade in the face of the officials and earning himself two technical fouls and an ejection.
"The new rule is, it's a block. That's the new rule, it's been explained 100 times," said Boeheim, who still felt Hood was moving when contact was made after seeing the replay postgame. "I wanted to see if I still had it in me to get out there. And I did—I thought I was quick, I stayed down, and I didn't get injured. All those things are good."
A no-call would have tied the game at 60 apiece; a blocking call would've given the Orange a chance to take the lead. Instead, Boeheim's outburst gave the Blue Devils four free throws and the ball, helping put the cap on a 66-60 win. Although Duke struggled from the free-throw line all night, finishing 13-for-25, Boeheim said he had no regrets about his reaction, feeling the game was already out of reach.
"I kind of thought that we would lose the game," Boeheim said. "I wasn't thinking too much, but I thought that [call] was the game-decider. We've got to foul, and there's a chance we can win still, but that play decided the game."
The victorious side saw the play a bit differently.
"The basketball gods, they're the best," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They put Rodney in the two defining plays.... I think [it] was a charge, but he was in the play both times. One turned out great for us and one didn't, and now both teams are 1-1."
After falling victim to silent whistles at Syracuse and struggling down the stretch in Duke's loss to North Carolina Thursday, Hood leapt up and unleashed a scream after watching the referee signal for a charge.
"It was like my second charge of the season," Hood said, "but it felt good.... I got a chance to redeem myself tonight."
A final call that went the way of the Blue Devils was far from the only thing to set Saturday's game in stark contrast with Syracuse's overtime victory Feb. 1.
Each team won the game better suited to the loser. Syracuse won round one, a shootout in which the teams combined to score 180 points. When the scene shifted to Durham, both teams struggled to get things clicking on the offensive end, but the Duke offensive juggernaut prevailed in a defensive struggle, usually the Orange's forte.
In the opener of the ACC's newest rivalry, Duke stayed close with unconscious outside shooting, making 15 shots from behind the arc. In the sequel, they were 7-for-21 but always seemed to hit a big triple at the right time. Marshall Plumlee found Hood in the first half to cut a 17-8 deficit to six, and Quinn Cook drilled one to build Duke's largest lead at 51-45. Jabari Parker made all three of his 3-point attempts, with each coming in a crucial spot.
"It seemed like both teams were scoring easy up at Syracuse, and today it was really difficult to score," Krzyzewski said. "I don't know how both teams could play any harder."
Part of what fueled the hot 3-point shooting at the Carrier Dome was Amile Jefferson's passing out of the high post, as the sophomore was able to find open shooters when the Orange zone collapsed to the middle. Jefferson rarely turned and faced the basket in that game, so Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney stayed out with Duke's shooters at the start of Saturday's contest.
In Saturday's 40-minute chess match between Krzyzewski and Boeheim, Krzyzewski countered by sticking Hood in the high post instead. The Meridian, Miss., native posed a more dangerous scoring threat, hitting mid-range jumpers from the elbow and driving to the rim looking to draw contact.
"Rodney really handled the ball well," Krzyzewski said. "This is a signature game for him."
Hood's aggressiveness put the Orange in foul trouble, a plague that befell the Blue Devils in the first matchup of the season. Syracuse big men Rakeem Christmas, Jerami Grant and Baye Moussa Keita all picked up four fouls, with Grant ultimately fouling out. After the Orange poured in 42 points in the paint at the Carrier Dome with Parker, Jefferson, Hood and Andre Dawkins mired in foul trouble, the foul situation was on the other foot Saturday and hurt Syracuse on both ends. Defensively, the Orange managed just two blocks, a far cry from the nine they had on their home court earlier this month.
The addition of the Duke-Syracuse matchup to the ACC has helped the conference create what Krzyzewski called a "gold mine." Two totally different games have produced the same result—a thrilling finish wrought with controversy. How would a potential rubber match play out on a neutral site at the ACC tournament?
Only two things are for sure: the game will be tight, and Hood will help to decide it down the stretch.