|Orange::44 -- bringing you inside the huddle|
Last year, a much better and much deeper Syracuse team kept things close and interesting while playing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This year, reasonable expectations would dictate otherwise. Despite its loss of talent and short bench, Syracuse has played its heart out as of late, particularly against good, top ranked teams; so I think we expected to see that type of effort Saturday night, but didn't exactly expect a win. Unfortunately, we didn't really see that effort; instead, we saw one of the worst games of the season for Syracuse. The Blue Devils were too much, beating Syracuse 73-54.
- My statistical recap will be abbreviated, in lieu of my personal observations from Cameron.
- I guess player of the game goes to Tyler Roberson. He led the Orange with 16 points on 5-9 shooting, 6-7 from the line, nine rebounds, and a couple assists in 38 minutes on the floor. He was able to exploit Duke's added pressure on Rakeem Christmas by hitting open mid-range jumpers and driving to the baskets.
- Trevor Cooney (13), Michael Gbinije (12), and Rakeem Christmas (11) were the other double digit scorers for the Orange. Considering the only other scorer was Ron Patterson's deuce, you can tell how offensively challenged Syracuse was.
- Honestly, it was a decent start to the game, with Syracuse hanging with Duke for the first ten minutes. Then Duke gradually pulled away and, as of 9:45 to go in the first, never relinquished the lead.
- Syracuse shot 30.6% in the game, and a putrid 3-20 (15%) from three. As Coach Boeheim noted, you can't put up numbers like that and expect to beat a team like Duke at Duke.
- Duke, meanwhile, shot 48.3% in the game, 34.8% from three, and simply dominated where they needed to dominate: 38 points in the paint, 17 points off 15 Syracuse turnovers, and 16 second chance points.
I was lucky enough, thanks to my cousin Shawn who obtained tickets through a golf contact, to attend the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and sit in Row F behind the Syracuse bench (oh, and the Syracuse bench is considered Row A). I was in the company of Daryl Gross, Katie McNamara, and close enough to essentially be in the team time-out huddles (though, as close as I was, I still couldn't hear anything Boeheim said). Since you're reading this, I assume you're a college basketball fan; go to Cameron Indoor. Put it on your bucket list. For as great a college basketball environment the Carrier Dome can be, Cameron is just as good (in a different way, though).
Cameron is small; its capacity is just over 9500. There's not a bad seat in the place; even the "nosebleeds" aren't that far away. In fact, the TV cameras are in the rafters; all other seats are closer than the cameras. They cram in as many seats as possible; the entire lower bowl is benches -- opposite the team benches is where the undergraduate seating is, where they cram in as many students as possible. More student seating is on each baseline and a little bit on the team bench sideline. And the students bring it. The band plays great music, and gets to play a lot. There's great interaction with all the fans in the arena. Because the place is so small and fans are really crammed in there, it's loud. Like, Boeheim was ten feet away from me the whole game and never once did I hear a word he said.
At Syracuse, I spent five years in the Sour Sitrus Society and one year in the student section, so I had six years about 40-50 feet behind the basket. So that's one perspective. Since then, I've been in my season tickets in section 309, which is right behind the Syracuse bench, but in the third tier about five rows from the top. At times, I've sat in various other seats in the Dome (or at Tourney games), but never five rows in back of the bench. That's a unique perspective.
From that perspective, I noticed a different Syracuse team. Rakeem Christmas is a workhorse. Yeah, we knew that, but the jockeying for position seems so much more intense from that perspective. On the flipside, Kaleb Joseph is a freshman. There's two games left, but he's still a freshman. He seems hesitant, he gets those big "deer caught in headlights" eyes quite often during the game, and if you're underwhelmed watching him on TV, I can't even describe how it is in person up close like that. Boeheim was asked what he saw from Joseph to take him out of the game. Boeheim's response: "Nothing." That says it all. I really hope he learns over the summer, or else we're in trouble at the point guard position.
Many of the shots that Cooney, Gbinije, and Johnson put up I knew weren't going in -- you could tell right off the fingers. Most of them missed, badly.
Oddly enough, the court and the spacing between the players seems so much smaller when you sit right behind the bench. Maybe I've gotten used to the "big picture" perspective from TV and from 309.
Cameron Indoor Stadium is a mecca for college basketball. Attached is a Duke Hall of Fame, featuring a history of the program, conference and national championship trophies, and features from the women's team as well as all other sports. I know Syracuse has its Hall at Manley/Melo Center (or thereabouts, who knows where stuff is now?), but I thought it was great having it attached to the place the games are played -- and it's open to the public even if you don't have tickets to the game. The concourses at Cameron are big enough for the capacity it sees. To get to and from the lower level seats, you enter from the baseline tunnel, AND WALK ON THE COURT. Yeah. Coach K Court. The general public walks on it. Crazy. At your seats on the lower level, there's very little leg room, you have to sit on your coat (if you bring it), and it gets quite warm. But it's an experience you walk away from smiling, even when your team loses. (I'll note that if you have upper level seating, you have an actual seat).
Looking around Cameron on Saturday night, it was, as expected, a sea of blue. Near and in front of me, I obviously saw the highest concentration of orange. Throughout the stadium, there was a smattering of orange -- a couple people together here and there. It was nice to see. The Blue Devil fans there were surprisingly polite and accommodating. Not once was I heckled or given any grief. It was the perfect mix of southern hospitality and respect for the game. Duke fans, you were great.
So yeah, I get it. I get how special Duke is, and how special Cameron Indoor Stadium is, and why these fans love everything about this school and this team so much. I probably take for granted how special of a thing we have at Syracuse and at the Carrier Dome, because I'm there so much. Maybe my experience at Duke can help me appreciate Syracuse more. Physically, they're opposite structures. But inside, both buildings can bring out the passion of college basketball fans in ways that I think very few venues across the country can.
In short, put Cameron Indoor Stadium on your bucket list.