Jim Boeheim returns to Syracuse bench after fatal accident

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim waits for the team's NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Three days after he accidentally hit and killed a pedestrian, Boeheim returned to the bench to loud applause prior to the Orange’s game against top-ranked Duke. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — No matter the outcome, Jim Boeheim needed this.

Three days after the Hall of Fame coach of the Syracuse Orange struck and killed a pedestrian on a darkened highway that leads out of town, he returned to the bench Saturday night. Boeheim’s first public appearance since the Wednesday night accident that killed 51-year-old Jorge Jimenez came in a 75-65 loss to top-ranked Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski, a close friend.

The 74-year-old Boeheim, in his 43rd season as head coach at his alma mater, had addressed the team Thursday but did not take part in practice. Although he returned for practice Friday, he had not appeared in public until he made his way into the Carrier Dome to a big ovation from a record crowd. Head down, Boeheim made his way to center court and acknowledged the crowd with a brief wave before giving Krzyzewski a heartfelt hug.

The accident happened after the Orange’s 20-point victory over No. 18 Louisville. Police say Jimenez was a passenger in a car that apparently skidded out of control on a patch of ice and hit a guardrail. Police say Jimenez was trying to get to safety when he was struck by Boeheim’s SUV. Boeheim had swerved to avoid the disabled car, which was resting perpendicular across two lanes.

Jimenez was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Another man in the car suffered minor injuries. A moment of silence was observed before the game for Jimenez and his family.

Police say Boeheim has cooperated and sobriety tests administered to Boeheim and the unidentified driver of the other vehicle were negative for any signs of impairment. No tickets have been issued and the investigation is continuing. Police Chief Kenton T. Buckner said Thursday night at a news conference there was “no reason to believe that there are criminal charges that will be coming for anyone.”

Once the game started, it seemed like just another tilt featuring the two winningest coaches in NCAA Division I history, except for the massive record crowd that made the dome’s walls shake every time the Orange scored. The top-ranked Blue Devils (24-3, 12-2) improved to 7-0 on the road in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In the first game between the teams, the Orange (18-8, 9-4) pulled off the upset, 95-91 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, as Tyus Battle scored a season-high 32 points and Syracuse used its 2-3 zone defense to rattle Duke in overtime.

Swingman Cameron Reddish was out with an illness and point guard Tre Jones suffered a shoulder injury roughly 5 1/2 minutes in to put Duke down two starters in that one. It was a completely different team, just like it was on Saturday without injured freshman star Zion Williamson, who had a season-high 35 points in that first game.

Freshman forward RJ Barrett, who had a triple-double and double-double in Duke’s previous two games, scored 30 points to lead Duke and Alex O’Connell had 20.

Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting, Elijah Hughes had 12, and Marek Dolezaj and Frank Howard had 10 apiece.

O’Connell’s four-point play early in the second half gave Duke a two-point lead and neither team led by more than four over the ensuing five minutes. O’Connell’s fifth 3-pointer of the game, a career high, and Barrett’s layup gave the Blue Devils a 58-52 edge with 9:16 to go.

Two free throws by Hughes narrowed the lead to two, but Barrett drained a 3, O’Connell followed with a steal and dunk, and Barrett converted a lob from Jones to give the Blue Devils a 65-56 lead with 4:45 left and the Orange never got closer than five the rest of the game.

Syracuse led nearly the entire first half and went into the locker room with a 34-29 lead. Barrett kept the Blue Devils in the game with 17 points in the opening period.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

The game set a record for an on-campus basketball game. The crowd of 35,642 eclipsed the mark of 34,446, twice against Duke.

SHOW OF SUPPORT

Several former Orange stars attended the game, including Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Todd Burgan and Billy Owens. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, wearing a No. 4 Syracuse jersey, also attended and sat just to the right of the Syracuse bench as a guest of businessman Adam Weitsman, a friend of the Boeheim family.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: Williamson is recovering from a sprained knee. Duke was crushed at home, 88-72, on Wednesday night by No. 8 North Carolina after Williamson was hurt on the game’s first possession. The Tar Heels scored 62 points in the paint without having to worry about the imposing presence of the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson, who has blocked 48 shots and is second in the ACC in scoring (21.6) and third in rebounding (8.8). Barrett has come on strong in Williamson’s absence.

Syracuse: Just being with the players and coaching them will help Boeheim cope with the tragic accident as the season winds down. The Orange displayed solid, hustling defense in the lopsided win over Louisville and getting that intensity back is key going forward with only four games left in the regular season.

UP NEXT

Duke: At No. 20 Virginia Tech on Tuesday night.

Syracuse: At No. 8 North Carolina on Tuesday night.