Duke, Syracuse used to getting best from their opponents

Jan. 30, 2014 @ 09:23 PM

Duke’s players routinely talk about the fact that they are always their opponent’s biggest game.

The effort will be better, the play will be at a higher level, due to the passion of lining up and trying to knock off the team with the letters D-U-K-E on its uniforms.

On Saturday night at the Carrier Dome (6:30 p.m., ESPN), the Blue Devils will face a team that knows the feeling quite well.

No. 2 Syracuse (20-0, 7-0 in ACC) also regularly finds itself in that position.

“Most games we do,” Syracuse forward Jerami Grant said. “We come out ready to play. We always come ready to play. Our results come from that.”

Grant said Wednesday’s game at Wake Forest was an example. The Demon Deacons hung close with the unbeaten Orange until a late surge allowed Syracuse to escape with a 67-57 win.

Orange freshman guard Tyler Ennis scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half at Wake Forest to key the win.

With that game over, the Orange began thinking about their mid-season showdown with Duke, which is riding a five-game winning streak after winning 80-65 at No. 18 Pittsburgh on Monday night.

“I’ve watched them play a couple of times,” Ennis said. “They are really playing together. They beat Pitt at home, which is never easy. We are going to approach it like any other game. I know the atmosphere in the dome is going to be crazy. But as far as us and how we’re preparing, it’s just going to be like any big game.”

The atmosphere at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome will be special. A crowd of nearly 36,000 is expected as the game is already sold out.

“I think they are going to have their largest crowd ever,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Playing in a dome is unusual and not all of our players have played in a dome. Especially in a dome where everybody is against you. So it’s a different environment.”

Duke’s ability to win handily at Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center, where the Panthers have won 89 percent of their games, certainly caught the attention of the Orange. Syracuse and Pitt were Big East rivals until both joined the ACC this season.

“Duke’s a really good team,” Syracuse sophomore guard Trevor Cooney said. “Ever since I’ve been following basketball, I’ve never seen anyone go into Pittsburgh and do what Duke did. That’s a tough place to play and a tough place to win. They did that and that was impressive.”

With 940 career wins, second to Krzyzewski’s 974, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has seen plenty of games like this.

“I’ve coached a thousand games,” Boeheim said after the win over Wake Forest. “That’s too many games to get excited about one game. It’s a 31-game regular season. Every one is important and every one counts the same. You have to approach it that way.”

That said, Boeheim knows his team will be in for a battle in front of the big crowd. He and Krzyzewski have coached together on the U.S. Olympic team staff for gold medal-winning teams in 2008 and 2012.

“Pittsburgh is the best team we’ve played this year and we played our best game of year against Pittsburgh at home,” Boeheim said of his team’s 59-54 win over the Panthers Jan. 18 at the Carrier Dome. “We still had to make a couple of great plays at the end – defensively and offensively – to sneak out with a win. Pittsburgh is a very difficult place to play and they made it look easy. Duke is a tremendous team and they are playing at the highest level of any one in our league.”

Krzyzewski calls the much hyped game, around which ESPN will hold its Game Day coverage, “a great thing.”

“How good is that for our brand,” Krzyzewski said. “Not just Duke and Syracuse. But the ACC. Our conference needs to take advantage of that and it has.”