This was supposed to be the encore of college basketball’s game of the year, matching two top-five teams in No. 1 Syracuse and No. 5 Duke and the winningest men’s coaches in Division I history.
It’s also a meeting of two teams trying to avoid a losing streak.
Both the Orange and Blue Devils stumbled ahead of their rematch Saturday night in the first visit to Cameron Indoor Stadium for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim’s team.
“It’s still a big game,” Syracuse forward C.J. Fair said. “You don’t want to lose two in a row.”
The midweek losses by Syracuse (25-1, 12-1 ACC) and Duke (21-6, 10-4) may have taken some luster off the matchup. They’ve also made it more important in an ACC race because neither team can afford another defeat.
“Our nose is bloody right now,” Duke forward Rodney Hood said. “We’ve got to wipe it off and get ready for another fight. We’ve got to move on from it. (Losing to UNC) is a tough one to swallow, but the reality is we’ve got a really good team coming in on Saturday.”
These two staged one for the ages on Feb. 1, with Syracuse winning 91-89 in overtime after Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon forced the extra session with an off-balance 3-pointer that beat the buzzer at the end of regulation.
“They played us tough here,” Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis said, “and we have to do the same to them down there, get back to what we do and what got us to this record.”
That kept the Orange’s school-record winning streak to start the season alive, and it reached 25 straight before Boston College stunned Syracuse in overtime on Wednesday night.
The next night, Duke appeared on its way to a snow-delayed victory over rival North Carolina before missing 13 straight shots in the second half and allowing the Tar Heels to rally for a 74-66 win.
The Syracuse game caps a stretch of four games in eight nights for the Blue Devils, after a winter storm forced the postponement of the Duke-UNC game eight days from its original Feb. 12 date.
They showed signs of weary legs late against the Tar Heels, and Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski says his team “didn’t have life.
“If we don’t” have it against Syracuse, he said, “we’ll get beat on Saturday. Even if you do have it, you can get beat.”
At this stage of the season, neither team can afford that.
Syracuse enters in second place in the ACC standings, a half-game behind No. 14 Virginia. Duke is in third, a half-game ahead of North Carolina and with three more league losses than the Orange and Cavaliers each have.
“I still think this team is special,” Fair said. “We can still accomplish something special. It’s fun being No. 1 and everybody wants to beat No. 1.”
Syracuse plays only one of its last five games at home and also must visit Virginia. Duke’s schedule is a bit more manageable — after this one, it faces sub-.500 teams Virginia Tech and Wake Forest before its season-ending rematch with the Tar Heels.
“With this quick turnaround, we’ve got to get ready for Syracuse on Saturday,” Duke point guard Quinn Cook said. “We’ve got to take away the things that we did wrong today, move on tomorrow and be ready to play a good Syracuse team.”