- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Jim Boeheim was here when John Thompson Jr. closed Manley Field House and here when the doors to the Carrier Dome first opened.
He is the building’s unofficial historian, curator even, the guy who knows not every inch of the place but literally what the walls would say if they could talk.
No one else has logged more hours in the building, a daily grind of 34 years and counting.
You could say Boeheim has seen a thing or two in the Dome. He did, after all, coach Pearl Washington here, Derrick Coleman, too, and Carmelo Anthony. This is where he said goodbye to Gerry McNamara’s college career and the Georgetown rivalry.
And yet, when the buzzer sounded on a game that Mike Krzyzewski, another guy who has seen a thing or two, called "epic," even Boeheim was out of words.
“I don’t think I’ve been involved in a better game in here that I can remember,’’ Boeheim said.
Syracuse beat Duke 91-89 in overtime. That’s the short story. The long version is almost too hard to explain, played as much on guts as talent, with as much intensity as heart. It went an extra five minutes. It still didn’t seem like enough. It was that good.
Rasheed Sulaimon hit a buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime. Rodney Hood missed a one-handed, would-be game-winning dunk that would have been so monstrous had it gone down instead of off the back of the rim, it would rank as a top 10 for the season. C.J. Fair scored 28 on every sort of floater and muscle drive you could conjure. A record 35,446 Orange juiced fans filled the Dome, cheering so loudly that even Seattle Seahawks fans had to be impressed.
That’s a season’s worth of highlights in one game.
"How many people can say they were a part of a game like this?" Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski was so overwhelmed with how the game was played that he refused to talk about how it might have been called. With the shot clock winding down and the game clock not far behind, Hood crossed over and soared to the rim, an aisle suddenly opening wide. The dunk missed at the same time Hood was met at the rim by Rakeem Christmas, who blocked Hood's shot for his sixth rejection of the game.
Krzyzewski wanted a foul. He didn’t get one.
"The game was too good to talk about one play," Krzyzewski said. "I’m not going there at all."
In the immediate scheme of things, the result matters. Duke is in danger of finishing out of the top three in the ACC, and, should North Carolina join the Blue Devils in the fourth-or-worse category, it will mark the first time in league history that neither finished in at least the bronze-medal category.
The Orange, meantime, remain in the hunt for perfection, with a school-record 21-0 mark. Syracuse has the clear path to becoming the ultimate party crasher and could win its first ACC crown in its first try.
But this was bigger than all of that, really.
Mark down the date -- Feb. 1, 2014: College basketball finally won one in the conference-realignment shuffle.
"Great rivalries don’t have to be built on hatred," Krzyzewski said. "They’re built on respect, on a respect for excellence."
Krzyzewski knew it could be this way. Well, maybe not this good exactly, but good. That’s why the only basketball coach who could make anyone listen spoke up. Tired of watching football people rearrange his sport, he essentially led the ACC to its come-to-Naismith moment.
Adding Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame -- and Louisville next season -- surely bolsters the football rosters, but it gives credence to a league that billed itself as basketball first but usually played second fiddle to the Big East.
The truth is, this wasn’t -- and never would be -- Boeheim’s first choice. Given his druthers, the Syracuse coach would still be taking road trips to Washington and Philadelphia, not Winston-Salem, N.C., and Raleigh, N.C.
Everything would be the same as it always was, as good as it always was.
Both he and his program built their reputations on the backbone of the Big East, and if he didn’t go to the ACC kicking and screaming, he at least went reluctantly, recognizing the business of the decision, even if he questioned its soul. It was hard to watch the Big East die, harder still to know his school helped pull the plug.
But Boeheim has also been around this business long enough to be a realist. Nothing lasts -- not conferences or rivalries, but, usually, something comes along to replace them.
There is no more Missouri-Kansas, no more Georgetown-Syracuse. But now, we have Syracuse-Duke.
If this is how it’s going to be, well, feel free to bring on more.
"I feel like this rivalry has been going on for 30 years and it’s only the first one," Fair said.
It probably felt like that because the buildup was weeks in the making. Students started camping out 12 days ago in Boeheimburg, which, thanks to occasional sub-zero temperatures, is a touch less trying than hanging out in Krzyzewskiville in Durham, N.C.
Town buses streamed "Beat Duke" across their fronts, and another sign, "Go SU, beat Duke," served as the departing shot for travelers exiting the airport.
Syracuse even pulled out its trump card, getting Vanessa Williams, Class of ‘85, to sing the national anthem.
Not even the last game against Georgetown, for all its history and nostalgia, could match the first game against Duke.
"If you paid $2,400 for a courtside seat, it was money well spent," Boeheim said. "And if you sold your tickets, well, you should be ashamed because you made money but you missed out on an epic."
And now for the kicker.
We get to do this all over again.
On Feb. 22, Syracuse travels to Duke, which will be a slightly more intimate, no less frenzied atmosphere.
"It’s going to be a ridiculous game," Tyler Ennis said. "They fought us for 40 minutes plus, so we’ve got to be ready to come into their home."
Asked if it could match this one, Ennis paused and smiled.
"I’m not sure about that," he said.
Neither is Jim Boeheim.