The Blue Devils desperately needed redemption, and they were so close they could almost taste it.
Duke trailed by a single point with 10 seconds remaining against a resolute Syracuse squad, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski put the ball—and his trust—in the hands of the Blue Devils’ most prolific playmaker—sophomore Grayson Allen.
The Jacksonville, Fla., native received the inbounds pass from junior Matt Jones and drove into the paint from the top of the key with his usual reckless abandon, spinning through the Orange’s signature 2-3 zone and scooping the ball under the outstretched arm of 6-foot-8 freshman Tyler Lydon. Allen’s underhanded shot landed high on the glass and fell harmlessly away from the basket. Syracuse junior Tyler Roberson—who had already made tremendous contributions for the Orange with 14 points and 20 rebounds—punched it away, hoping to prevent another shot attempt before time expired.
The ball bounced out near the foul line, where Jones lunged forward and was met by two Syracuse players following suit. The DeSoto, Texas, native stretched his hands out for the ball before making contact with Malachi Richardson and throwing his hands up as the ball was knocked away.
Richardson came away with the ball and the Blue Devils were left looking at the referees waiting for a whistle that did not come—the third prominent no-call in the series between the two teams since the Orange joined the ACC in 2013, and one that did not sit well with Krzyzewski after the game.
“We would’ve liked to drive a little bit more, although we did right at the end of the game for this amazing ending,” Krzyzewski said. “The last play was just amazing. Have you seen it? You should go see it. Literally amazing. The one at the foul line. It’s amazing basketball, let’s put it that way.”
With the game still not entirely in the books, Duke freshman Derryck Thornton dove after Richardson and delivered the foul with 2.1 seconds remaining.Richardson toed the line with his team in the bonus and thus with a chance to put the game out of the Blue Devils’ reach once and for all. He drained the first shot to make it a two-point game, but the second came up short, ricocheting off the rim and falling into the hands of Jones with two seconds to go.
Jones charged up the court, using two dribbles to get just beyond the Syracuse 3-point line. There, he made contact with two Orange defenders as he heaved the ball in a last-ditch effort. The desperation attempt was deflected and did not get past half court, and as the Syracuse players streamed away to celebrate, Jones slid across the floor, looking for another whistle.
“We put ourselves in a position to win,” Krzyzewski said. “Matt made a great play and he wasn’t rewarded. He made a great play. It’s amazing. It’s literally amazing. God bless America.”
Monday’s down-to-the-wire loss against Syracuse was nothing new for Duke. Four of the five games between the Blue Devils and Orange as ACC foes have been decided by eight points or fewer, with officiating now at the center of three of them. In the teams' first meeting at the Carrier Dome in February 2014, Duke almost dealt then-undefeated Syracuse its first loss of the season, but Rodney Hood's dunk attempt at the end of overtime was turned away by Rakeem Christmas, with the Internet left to decide whether contact was made to Hood's arm.
Just a few weeks later, head coach Jim Boeheim stormed onto Coach K Court—blazer flapping in his wake—to contest a charge call drawn by Hood against a driving C.J. Fair on a lay-up that could have given the Orange the lead in the final seconds. Boeheim was ejected, quipping postgame that the call was "the worst call of the year."
Krzyzewski did not go quite that far Monday night, but it was clear he felt a different resolution to the no-call with 2.1 seconds left was in order.
During the first half, Boeheim gamely pretended to remove his jacket Monday when the Cameron Crazies started chanting at him, flashing a smile in the process to the cheers of the crowd. In the end, though, the Orange got the last laugh.
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