You are head coach Jim Boeheim. Duke-Syracuse II is coming down the wire. The Orange are down by two. You call a play that gets the ball in the hands of your best scorer, C.J. Fair, a guy who can score from anywhere on the court. Fair attacks the rim along the baseline. Duke's Rodney Hood slides over to get into position. They collide, but Fair smoothly banks the shot in for the tie, except official Tony Greene blows his whistle, calling a charge on Fair. No basket. Duke ball, up two with ten seconds left. You think it was the wrong call. You have two options:
A.) You curse loudly, but bite your lip when Greene glares at you. You spin around and complain to your bench. Then you turn back to the court and scream for a timeout, calling Greene over for a frank, 30-second conversation about the call, being careful not to antagonize him so much that you draw a technical foul.
B.) You curse loudly. You keep cursing loudly. You try to tear off your coat, thinking briefly about whipping it across the court. It doesn't come right off, and, besides, you realize that tossing your coat at Greene, or perhaps using it as a sort of exclamatory whip...that might be a mistake. Instead, you stride across the court, still cursing, heading for Greene. You continue to curse as you get in Greene's face. Greene finally warns you that he will eject you if you curse at him again. You curse at him again. Greene gives you a double-technical and tosses you out of the game. You hang around long enough to clarify your thoughts a few more times, heavily spiced
with more cursing. Then you close your mouth and head through the gauntlet of Cameron Crazies taunting you. You reach the locker room and watch the remaining seconds on TV as your team drops its second straight loss of the season.
OPTION A - You keep control and don't get kicked out.
ESPN's cameras focus on you as the timeout ends. You have a wry smile on your face and you shake your head sadly as Greene walks away. You wave your hand dismissively at him and give your team a few quick instructions. ESPN replays the Fair-Hood play for the sixth time, with Bilas and Vitale alternatively sympathizing with Syracuse, marveling at Fair's sweet finish, and generally hedging their opinions about whether or not it was the right call. Ultimately, Vitale thinks the refs should have just let them play, while Bilas insists, "It was either a block or a charge. There's too much contact to be a no call. Ultimately, it's a judgement call, and the judgement went against Syracuse."
Duke inbounds the ball to Rasheed Sulaimon, an 80% free throw shooter. Tyler Ennis immediately fouls him. With 8.5 seconds on the clock, Sulaimon hits the first but misses the second. Down by three, you take a timeout. You set up a play that gives Ennis the ball, with multiple options on the perimeter depending on the defense. Dan Shulman alludes to the Pittsburgh buzzer-beater, but Duke, as they have all game, plays Ennis tightly and forces him to give up the ball. He finds Cooney who comes off a high screen for a decent but off-balanced three. It misses. Jabari Parker rebounds and is quickly fouled with just under 2 seconds to play. He hits both free throws and the game is effectively over. Duke wins, 63-58.
After the game, there is some second-guessing about the late charge call. ESPN breaks it down at length during the post-game show. Most recaps, however, focus on Duke winning round two and Parker's double-double. They also highlight the poor shooting of Ennis and Cooney. In Syracuse, fans bemoan the refereeing, but also start to vocalize creeping doubts about the team's ceiling. Among the Syracuse players, there is much frustration over how they are playing. They are motivated in practice, but a certain naive confidence they had carried before the two defeats has evaporated. You hope to use this as a teaching moment and a chance for them to get better, but of course, you know they'll either take the next step forward in time for the post-season, or they won't.
Overall, the narrative has shifted. Syracuse is not the uber-elite team people were starting to think they were.
OPTION B - You flip out and get kicked out.
For a few moments, all hell breaks loose in Cameron Indoor. In the locker room, you try to remember the last time you were thrown out of a game. Was it ten years ago? (In fact, the one and only time you have ever been ejected was in an exhibition
against St. Rose back in 2005.) On ESPN, Bilas criticizes you heavily, saying, "The game is over...when he gets a technical." Indeed, Duke ends up winning 66-60. After the game, (in one of your greatest press conferences
) you call it, "the worst call of the year." All of the post-game coverage focuses on the charge call and your ensuing tantrum. Some people think it was the right call. Some people think it was a terrible call. Some people think it could have gone either way. Some people, Duke fans mainly, point out that this evens things up after the suspect officiating in the first meeting.
In Syracuse, it is unseasonably warm, and its hot inside every SU fan's house. Elderly women curse Greene's name. Children burst into tears, wondering why he would make such an obviously bad call. Almost everyone agrees, though, that your ejection was one of the most incredibly awesome things they have ever seen you do. #FreeBoeheim trends number one on Twitter. Freeze frames of your jacket not quite coming off are used for profile photos, and .gifs of your tantrum appear almost immediately. Your approval rating around town is as high as any moment, other than April 2003. People love you.
As your players file into the locker room. They are somber, eyeing you warily. You can guess their thoughts. They are bitter about the loss. They each think about one or two key plays they could have made that might have changed the result. But they all are certain of one thing; if the correct call had been made, they would have won the game. Fair, especially, is certain that Greene made the wrong call. There isn't a doubt in his mind. He knows he made a great play to tie the game. Ennis has his head up. He shot poorly, and yet Syracuse STILL played Duke to a draw in the most hostile environment in college basketball. Keita, puffed up after collecting 8 offensive rebounds, claps his hands enthusiastically. "That was our game! They took it from us!" he shouts, speaking aloud what everyone believes.
Heading into two tough road games, the Orange are eager to get back onto the court and play better. They want to take one more step, improving so that when the next break doesn't go there way, it won't matter. They'll be winning by too much.
You, Jim Boeheim, are waging a campaign.* Getting tossed out was
surrendering an already lost battle with an eye set on the greater war.
When your best player, your senior, makes a
fantastic play to tie the game, but the officials wipe it out with a
tough call, you back your best player up. You back your team up. And, if
you re-watch the replay in the locker room and realize the call was a
lot closer than you thought, you go out to the press conference and call
it, "the worst call of the season." You know your team has a lot of
ways they need to improve. You know SU's offense is streaky. Your
freshman point guard looked a little - just a little - out of sorts
against Duke's frenetic man-to-man defense. Your shooter's confidence is
up and down. Little injuries are starting to crop up, though you've
dodged the big ones thus far. The post-season is just around the corner. The ACC
regular season title is slipping away, but it's all about who gets hot
in March. The two game losing streak could either be a warning sign or a
turning point. In taking the attention onto yourself and onto the one,
pivotal call, you hope you've improved the odds that this loss is the latter.
Overall, the narrative has shifted. People don't think Syracuse is the uber-elite team they looked like a week ago. But the Orange players know differently.
Bilas was correct in saying the technicals, not the charge, ended the game. Syracuse had a tiny chance to pull out a miracle if they were only down two, ten seconds to play, Duke's ball. Syracuse had essentially zero chance to pull out a miracle down five, ten seconds to play, Duke's ball. But that tiny chance was worth throwing away.
I'm not sure if Boeheim fully thought out all the ramifications of getting ejected. But for a coach who has never been ejected from a non-exhibition game, and who has only grown more mellow in the twilight of his career, it's hard to believe he didn't know something
about what he was doing. Now we'll see what happens.
I am sure of this: as a fan who gets extremely down after SU loses, I was never more fired up after a defeat than I was after this one. Love you Boeheim. Love you CJ. Love you Orange.
*Totally stealing the "campaign" perspective from Michael Davies, one of the two brilliant Men in Blazers, who cover soccer in my favorite podcast.