Men's Basketball

Undefeated? Wilson: Syracuse’s perfect season will end at Duke on Feb. 22

Sam Maller | Photo Editor

Jabari Parker goes up for a dunk in Syracuse's 91-89 win over Duke on Feb. 1. The Blue Devils will pose a tough test once again on Feb. 22 when SU travels to Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Editor’s note: Beat writers Stephen Bailey and David Wilson were assigned to take a side on whether or not Syracuse will finish undefeated. Click here for Stephen’s take.

PITTSBURGH — For the first time this year, perhaps, the crowd got to Syracuse. Sure, it was after the game, but when the Oakland Zoo erupted at the sight of an official waving off Tyler Ennis’ miracle heave — it must have been a mirage — some uneasiness finally came over the Orange.

Maybe it wasn’t panic, but there was definitely uncertainty.

“They kind of had some confusion,” SU forward C.J. Fair said. “I was like, ‘Naw, they got to check that again.’”

The cheers only lasted about a second, though. Some Pittsburgh fans saw the call wrong. Syracuse stunned the No. 25 Panthers with a 58-56 win. In front of a notoriously raucous crowd, Wednesday was the first, and one of the last, times that the top-ranked Orange was an underdog.

The next will be in a week, when No. 1 SU (24-0, 11-0 Atlantic Coast) travels down to Durham, N.C., to face No. 8 Duke in front of the equally rowdy Cameron Crazies.

If it weren’t for that trip, then maybe Syracuse could go undefeated. But that’s the date to circle now as the Orange’s first loss of the season. The miracles have to run out eventually, and Cameron Indoor Stadium has seen plenty of dreams die.

“The way we played the first 36-37 minutes of most games, we should be 20-4 or 19-5,” SU head coach Jim Boeheim said, “but in the last three or four minutes we’ve been just about perfect in all those situations.”

Before Wednesday, Syracuse’s biggest scare came when it welcomed Duke to the Carrier Dome on Feb. 1. The Blue Devils were only No. 17 then and just starting to kick a slump that mired them for the start of conference play.

Still, Duke hung 89 points on the Orange. No other ACC team has even scored 60 against SU this season.

The Blue Devils led for the early part of the overtime period even without Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson. Duke had to roll out the clearly uncomfortable Marshall Plumlee in the high post and even then the Blue Devils nearly handed Syracuse its first loss. All that Duke has done since nearly upsetting the Orange is lay 20-point beatings on Wake Forest and Boston College.

The conference’s pace has slowed down, but the Blue Devils can still score like an ACC team of old. And the best way to beat SU, which always makes the big plays down the stretch, is to keep it from having the opportunities to make those plays.

Pitt was never a team that could put up the points to keep Syracuse at anything more than arm’s length. Duke, however, has that type of firepower.

And let’s not forget that the Orange did need a literal miracle to even be in position for us to have this discussion right now.

“It’s a little lucky.”

Even Boeheim said it.

Like it has so often this year, everything broke SU’s way in the end. Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon surprisingly called a timeout and gave Boeheim a chance to draw something up. Ennis’ 35-footer somehow went in and there was no question he got it off in time.

If the freshman waits even a second longer, Syracuse suffers its first loss.

“They did everything right,” Pitt wing Lamar Patterson said. “He just hit that prayer.”

With seven games left, there are probably three others to look at as potential losses aside from the game against the Blue Devils. Two home games this week — North Carolina State (16-8, 6-5) on Saturday and Boston College on Wednesday — should get the Orange to 26-0. Senior Night against Georgia Tech should be an easy win, too.

That leaves a trip to Maryland next week, — two days after Duke — a trip down to Charlottesville, Va., to face No. 17 Virginia and the regular-season finale at Florida State as the potential losses.

None of those three provide the same intrigue as the Blue Devils, but to think Syracuse can get through that remaining schedule unscathed…

Well, that would be the height of foolishness.

David Wilson is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at dbwilson@syr.edu or on Twitter at @DBWilson2.

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