Men's Basketball

Bailey: Boeheim’s ejection costs Syracuse chance to beat Duke

Sam Maller | Staff Photographer

Jim Boeheim was ejected for the first time in his career on Saturday in Syracuse's 66-60 loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Jim Boeheim sat behind the podium and smiled. In only a matter of minutes he had regained his composure after the jacket-thrashing, tie-flapping tirade that led to his ejection late in Syracuse’s 66-60 loss to Duke on Saturday.

Boeheim laughed and praised the referees tongue-in-cheek. He handled every question without a sweat. Without being combative. Without showing the lack of control he had displayed to a national audience on ESPN.

But he didn’t apologize. Not even in the face of what seemed to be an undeniable truth — the three free throws that resulted from his double technical sealed his team’s defeat.

He refused to look past Tony Greene’s questionable charge call on C.J. Fair.

“I kind of thought we would lose the game,” Boeheim said of the foul call with 10.4 seconds left, though his team was still down only two with Duke in the single bonus. “I don’t know if I was really thinking that much at the time, but I thought that was the game-decider.”

The charge call on C.J. Fair wasn’t the game-decider. Boeheim’s ejection was. The 38th-year head coach cost his team a chance to play out the game and try to beat the Blue Devils.

Had he not exploded, Boeheim could have instructed his defense to set up a press. Syracuse could have stolen the ball and scored in transition, like it did to beat North Carolina State a week ago. Or it could have fouled. Duke would have had to hit both shots of a one-and-one to keep SU from having another chance to tie or lead.

Maybe the result of the game wouldn’t have changed. Kenpom.com lists Syracuse’s chances of victory at 5.5 percent before Boeheim’s ejection.

But they dropped to .3 afterward.

“I think maybe if he didn’t get the techs, we’d still have a chance to win,” senior forward C.J. Fair said.

Fair sat at his locker for 15 minutes after the game, forced to re-enact the same sequence of events for each reporter that cut to the front of the crowd.

He saw open court as he dribbled the baseline. He saw Rodney Hood still moving toward him as he switched the ball to his right hand and took off. He saw Greene, the referee, when he came down, and initially thought the basket was good. But then he realized it wasn’t.

It was painful to watch. Fair may have had his first chance to win at Cameron stripped by the referees — even he said he hadn’t seen the replay yet.

But it was Boeheim who prevented him from another opportunity.

“I think Coach crossed a line and he had to pay for it,” Fair said.

Other players weren’t so brash about the ejection, but even when faced with the scenario: down two points or five, none could refute the difference in the team’s chances to win.

“When he thinks that we were almost cheated, he’s going to fight for us, and that’s what he did tonight,” sophomore guard Trevor Cooney said. “…The percentage is not in your favor, but he fought for what he thought was right.”

In the teams’ first matchup on Feb. 1, it was the Blue Devils who were arguably on the wrong end of a close judgment down the stretch.

Rakeem Christmas got two fingers on Hood’s high-velocity dunk attempt with 13 seconds left in overtime and SU ahead 88-87. Their upper arms collided as well, but there were no whistle and the Orange went on to win 91-89.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t erupt. And when he was asked about the play in the postgame press conference, he simply refused to address it.

“I don’t want that to be — this game is too good to talk about one play,” Krzyzewski said. “Please, I’m not going there at all.”

Boeheim did go there.

He not only said that the call was the worst in college basketball this season — taking away from the excellent growth of a new rivalry between perennial national contenders — but he kept the spotlight on him by joking that he gave the Duke fans something to remember him by.

He compounded his initial mistake by failing to apologize for his outburst, and let down the No. 1 program in the country in its first season as an Atlantic Coast Conference member.

Maybe next time he has a chance, Boeheim will apologize. For a community that revolves around Syracuse and SU basketball, he owes it that.

Stephen Bailey is the sports editor at The Daily Orange where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at sebail01@syr.edu or on Twitter at @Stephen_Bailey1

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