Four days ago, both the Syracuse Orange and Duke Blue Devils had every reason to be confident. The Orange had a perfect record and the No. 1 ranking in the nation after two heart-stopping victories against the Pittsburgh Panthers and North Carolina State Wolfpack. The Blue Devils were sailing up the Associated Press Poll after four-straight wins following a two-point loss to SU, moving up from No. 17 to No. 5 in four weeks.
What a difference a few days makes. SU (25-1, 12-1 ACC) dropped a close game to ACC bottom-dweller Boston College on Wednesday, while Duke (21-6, 10-4 ACC) fell to arch-nemesis North Carolina Thursday. The Blue Devils and Orange meet Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium less than a month after Syracuse secured a 91-89 victory in front of an NCAA record on-campus crowd.
One team is destined to lose two-straight games for the first time this season.
In the first game, Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon drilled a 3-pointer as time expired to send it into overtime. In the extra stanza neither team led by more than three points, but the Orange put the game away by converting on 7-of-8 free throws with under 1.5 minutes remaining. Syracuse forward CJ Fair scored 28 points in the offensive slugfest, while Sulaimon poured in 16 points to lead the way for Duke.
As if the first game weren’t exciting enough, the second takes on added precedence. Syracuse is trying to avoid dropping behind Virginia as the first-place team in the conference with a date on the road against the Cavaliers looming. Duke is seeking a signature win and to avert a free-fall in the rankings and tournament seeding.
The first line on some prognosticators’ brackets no longer reads Syracuse. Meanwhile, Duke players’ legs will be tested after winter weather forced the team to play UNC and SU just 48 hours apart. And neither team needs any motivation to get up for this game.
With the stakes raised even higher this time, Syracuse vs. Duke Part II is going to be fun.