Unranked Syracuse tops No. 1 Duke in overtime victory

Unranked Syracuse tops No. 1 Duke in overtime victory

Paschal Chukwu grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, the most by any ACC player this season.
Published: January 15, 2019
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Tyus Battle slams down a dunk in the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. Battle scored a season-high 32 points in the victory over the Duke Blue Devils.

DURHAM, N.C. – After a long-fought battle, Syracuse handed the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils their first conference loss this season after a 95-91 overtime victory.

“Intimate” is probably the word the Blue Devils and their regular fans use to describe Cameron Indoor. Tightly packed, cozy, and everyone knows everyone. “Claustrophobic” is more in line with the Syracuse point of view, whether that be for the team itself or those straggling orange-clad fans behind the ‘Cuse bench.

And claustrophobia seemed to be setting in for the Orange early on in the game as Duke’s guards successfully harassed and turned over Frank Howard right from the tip. A quick substitution of Howard, who had collected his second personal foul just a minute into the game, for Jalen Carey at point guard proved no more helpful. Two more turnovers committed by the second-string point guard resulted in an 11-0 start in favor of the Devils.

“The start we had was just about as nightmarish as you can have,” Head Coach Jim Boeheim said. “We were able to kind of pull it right back together.”

Eventually, the Orange began to settle in and figure out what is so appealing about an arena so densely packed it makes fitting a week’s worth of clothing into a piece of carry-on luggage look easy. First, Elijah Hughes put the Orange on the scoreboard with a couple of made free throws. Then, Tyus Battle put the ball through the bottom of the net on consecutive possessions for the team’s first field goals of the night.

“Tyus was phenomenal in the first part of the game,” Boeheim said. “Tyus had a huge game.”

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Tyus Battle puts up a floater over Duke's Marques Bolden.

Milestone after milestone kept the game within reach for Boeheim’s veteran team, as Hughes drilled Syracuse’s first three-pointer with 13:49 left in first the half and only a few game-minutes later threw down a thunderous dunk that would quiet the crowd if for only a short while.

The success of one Orange player translated into the success of the team like it has not all season, as Battle slammed home a dunk of his own on the very next possession. All of this was capped off by a fumbled inbound pass 90 feet from the basket and a miraculous three-quarter court heave by Hughes that somehow passed through the rim as the sound of the buzzer bounced off the very intimate walls of Cameron Indoor.

But Hughes had only brought his team within one point of its opponent’s score, and the game was becoming more and more physical. This is the characteristic of a game that usually spells trouble for a team committed to a zone defense that inherently makes it more difficult to box out offensive rebounders.

In spite of the Cameron Crazies screeching and taunting and convulsing as one gigantic organism without tiring, the Orange showed resolve. Paschal Chukwu was a key component in this aspect of the game as he pulled down a career-high 18 rebounds — the most an ACC player has had all season — and battled against players with frames much bulkier than his own.

“The difference in the game is ­— Paschal struggled to whole year, and when he plays like that, we’re a different team” Boeheim said.

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Center Paschal Chukwu tries to pull down a rebound for the Orange. Chukwu finished with a career-high 18 rebounds.

And finally, less than a minute into the second half, an Oshae Brissett bucket put the Orange ahead 50-49. The lead did not last long – 13 seconds of in-game time to be exact – but it finally felt like Syracuse had a real shot at winning this game. At the end of regulation, with the score all knotted up at 85, and the ball in the hands of Battle, it seemed inevitable that the ball would pass through the rim and give Syracuse the upset victory right then and there over the number one team in the country. The shot did not fall, though, and regulation turned into overtime.

At this point however, it seemed too late for Duke. The Orange basketball team had momentum on its side. It had an increasingly confident Howard righting the ship whenever it swayed off course. It had a 32-point scorer in Battle who was doing whatever he could to shake up the AP polls. And it had a team willing to win as 17-point underdogs. Duke, on the other hand, had an ill Cam Reddish who never saw the floor, and an injured Tre Jones who did not return to the game after a first half collision with Howard.

Duke, down four with less than 30 seconds to go, struggled to even get a shot off on its final possession and the crowd showed its discontent with the home team’s offense.

“It was obviously a good win. We’re very fortunate,” Boeheim said.

The Orange will head back to the Carrier Dome to face Pitt Saturday at 2 p.m.