Jim Boeheim was ejected after losing his cool in response to a controversial charge call on C.J. Fair (5). (Gerry Broome/AP)
To be clear: What made Jim Boeheim attempt to disrobe, storm the court in a way a 69-year-old never should and spew expletives like his mouth was a Gatling gun of profanity was rage. Purified, seismic rage over a bad call, an injustice done to his Syracuse team in yet another mesmerizing game against Duke, one that proved these teams really should play every week.
Rage rocket-boosted Boeheim into a most glorious temper tantrum and an early exit into the locker room, all due to a controversial charge call on C.J. Fair with seconds left to play Saturday. It effectively ended any chance the Orange had in a 66-60 loss to the Blue Devils. But it was a shade of something else, too, the thing that defined the whole night, the thing that made the second meeting between these teams as unforgettable as the first: Desperation.
First-world desperation, yes. Duke had not lost consecutive regular season games since February 2009. Syracuse hadn’t lost a regular season game this year until Wednesday, and while a second straight loss would not subvert the season, it was going to make winning an ACC regular season title a more annoying task than it seemed to be when the week began.
Though the Boeheim ravings suggested otherwise, no one would leave Cameron Indoor Coliseum in tatters. But both acted like it in a more grueling affair than the first, which is what made the second time equally terrific. The Feb. 1 meeting, won in overtime by Syracuse, felt more like a glittering showcase, breakneck and breathless.
Saturday was about shoving fists into buckets of rocks before tip-off and seeing who survived. Duke rediscovered whatever its coach felt it was missing on Thursday down the road in Chapel Hill, weathering some early efficiency to hold the Syracuse to 38.7 percent shooting overall and to limit Tyler Ennis, the fulcrum of everything for the Orange, to 2-of-13 shooting and nine points.
Meanwhile, Jabari Parker acted like he learned everything the Sports Illustrated cover story suggested he learned, pouring in 19 points and 10 rebounds and trying to make the game his own. His bull-rush score with 1:23 left, to make it a three-point lead for Duke, was unapologetic. He attacked as if no other outcome was possible. His rebound in traffic on the next Syracuse possession was primordial.
Syracuse kept coming and coming, clambering out of a momentary fog time and again. Its zone got poked apart for 47.8 percent Duke shooting and its big men were in foul trouble about 13 seconds into the game and Jerami Grant reportedly battled back issues all night.
And then Fair elevated on a baseline drive to attempt a tying score with 10.3 seconds left to play.
The Orange, in the broad sense, had both little and much to lose Saturday. A No. 1 seed would be possible either way. The ACC regular season title might have been hard to come by with a loss -- Syracuse now is a game behind Virginia and must travel to Charlottesville for the programs' only meeting next Saturday -- but that could be rectified in the ACC tournament, too. But there was that urgency in Syracuse on Saturday, as if it felt it lost hold of something against Boston College it was anxious to recover.
And then Duke’s Rodney Hood slid in front of Fair, and then the officials whistled Fair for a charge with 10.3 seconds left. And then somewhere inside Jim Boeheim a previously undiscovered stash of weapons-grade plutonium went to work.
“I thought it was the worst call of the year, that’s all,” Boeheim deadpanned to reporters in Durham after the game.
It was an unpardonable lack of self-control, if also an understandable one. This didn’t seem to be a cagey Hall of Famer proving a point now to benefit when the stakes are greater later. This was strictly a coach supremely hacked off at the refs at what, in sum, seemed to be a perfect time for a no-call. Regardless, Boeheim left his team no discernible chance, which runs directly counter to how he’s managed 944 wins before this weekend.