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Syracuse fans stay put, make Duke game a sellout despite freezing temps, postseason ban

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SYRACUSE, New York — Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim and his Orange only have seven games remaining in their season, thanks to a self-imposed postseason ban instituted by the university as it awaits the results of an NCAA investigation into the athletic department.

In this basketball-crazed city, the fans are sticking by the home team — no matter what.

Almost a carbon copy of last year, Syracuse's first in the Atlantic Coast Conference, seemingly incessant snow and projected subzero temperatures haven't dissuaded students from camping out again in Boeheimville outside the Carrier Dome to get the best tickets for Saturday night's home game against the new Georgetown on the schedule — No. 4 Duke (21-3, 8-3 ACC).

The students will be part of the largest crowd of the season, which will match the Carrier Dome record of 35,446 set last year when the two teams, guided by the two winningest coaches in the history of Division I, met for the first time as members of the ACC.

"It'll be a great matchup. It's a great matchup every time we play," said Boeheim, whose 964 career victories are 40 fewer than Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. "They have a great team. It'll be a great day for college basketball like it was last year."

Despite the impending premature end to a troubled season, Syracuse (16-8, 7-4) has exhibited plenty of grit in the two games since the ban was announced.

The Orange lost 83-77 at Pittsburgh last Saturday, fading in the closing minutes as Syracuse's top three scorers — Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije — had to ease up defensively because each had four fouls.

Gbinije had 21 points to lead Syracuse to a 70-56 win at Boston College on Wednesday night, and the Duke transfer has been playing at a high level in league play.

"It (the ban) is very unfortunate, but at the same time we have games to play," said Gbinije, who has averaged just under 20 points and hit 10 of 21 from behind the arc over the last four games. "It's a matter of pride. They (the fans) still want us to win."

PHOTO: Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas (25), Tyler Roberson (21) and Michael Gbinije (0) leave the court as an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh ends on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 83-77. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas (25), Tyler Roberson (21) and Michael Gbinije (0) leave the court as an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh ends on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 83-77. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Although Coach K and Boeheim have coached 2,605 college games, they have squared off against one another just four times, and each has two victories, splitting two games a year ago.

Ranked No. 2 and unbeaten at the time, Syracuse beat 17th-ranked Duke 91-89 in an overtime classic last February in the Dome to rise to No. 1. The Orange then lost the rematch, 66-60, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in a game that will long be remembered for Boeheim's late-game tirade. He was ejected after protesting a charging call on C.J. Fair that nullified the tying basket with 10.4 seconds left.

Boeheim expects more of the same on Saturday and also will get a chance to atone for last year's loss at Duke because the teams play there again in two weeks.

"This team has played hard all year," Boeheim said. "They'll play hard all year. There's no excuse not to. I'm proud of them every game."

Syracuse won the first-ever meeting between the teams, 78-76, in the 1989 ACC-Big East Challenge in Greensboro, North Carolina Duke posted a 80-67 victory in the 1998 NCAA tournament's South Regional.

Saturday's game promises to be special for Gbinije, who's one of just a handful of transfers in Boeheim's 39-year tenure. The Orange will be treating it like a game in mid-March, when tournament time is in full swing.

"We just have to do the best with what we have left and win basically all we play for the rest of the season," Gbinije said. "I'm just saying what the people in Syracuse are hyped about. They should be hyped about it, it's Duke."


Freelance writer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.


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PHOTO: Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim pleads with an official in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh, Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 83-77. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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