By JOHN KEKIS
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - Jim Boeheim slowed as he pedaled the stationary bicycle inside the sparkling new Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, his mind racing back more than three decades.
"It was the premier rivalry during the history of the Big East," Boeheim said while contemplating the end of an era. "At one time, for a 10- or 15-year period, it was probably the No. 1 rivalry in the country. It's had a lot of emotional games, a lot of close, tough, hard battles right down to the end. It's really been a great rivalry for both schools."
Boeheim was talking about Georgetown-Syracuse, a rivalry unmatched in its heyday in the 1980s when the Big East Conference was in its infancy. A rivalry that will have a different feel after this season when Syracuse leaves to join the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"It's not the same when you're not in the same league," Boeheim said. "It will never be the same."
The teams have played 87 times since 1930, and 20 games have been decided by two points or fewer, 39 by five or fewer and 12 in overtime.
They meet for the final time in the Carrier Dome as conference members on Saturday. That's the reason students have been camped out all week to be part of an NCAA on-campus record crowd of 35,012 that will transform the stands surrounding Jim Boeheim Court into a raging sea of orange.
The special feeling for the home fans can be traced to a snowy February night in 1980, when former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. became the man Syracuse fans came to despise.
It was the end of an era then, too - the last game in the imposing atmosphere of Syracuse's Manley Field House. Opponents always dreaded playing at Manley, a dusty arena encircled by a dirt track that opened in 1962, which was Boeheim's freshman year. It seated 9,500, including a rowdy student section aptly dubbed "The Zoo." Boeheim was unbeaten there as a head coach and wasn't fond of the impending move to the cavernous Carrier Dome, which was under construction and would open later that year.
Syracuse was 22-1 and ranked second in the nation, and had won 57 straight games at Manley, outscoring opponents 95.7 to 70.0 during the streak. It had just dispatched archrival St. Bonaventure 107-82 three days earlier, in part thanks to that daunting home-court advantage.
"We'd come out for the jump ball, and walking toward center court everybody is standing up and stomping their feet like 10,000 kettle drums," said Roosevelt Bouie, the team's leading scorer that season and with Louis Orr the cornerstone of Boeheim's first seasons as head coach. "In the pit of your stomach, it was so loud we used to think, 'We've got to score as fast as we can before we go deaf.'"
This would be Thompson's first and only trip to Manley, and the big guy, in his eighth season with the Hoyas, was unfazed.
Syracuse led by as many as 16 in the second half before Georgetown rallied with a 13-2 run. The Orange converted just 1 of 8 free throws in the closing minutes and Georgetown tied it at 50 late when Bouie was called for goaltending.
Then, with 5 seconds remaining, Georgetown star Eric "Sleepy" Floyd was fouled and calmly made two free throws, ignoring the taunts and waving arms of the raucous home crowd. When Orr's 30-footer at the buzzer hit the front of the rim and bounced harmlessly away, the streak was over.
There were no tears in the Syracuse locker room, just stunned silence.
Thompson's teenage son, John III, now head coach of the Hoyas, shouted with glee back home listening to Hoyas radio play-by-play man Rich Chvotkin call the action. Moments after the final horn, a rivalry was in full swing when 6-foot-10 John Thompson Jr. declared: "Manley Field House is officially closed."
"I think people make more out of it than I did," Thompson said. "I was just basically teasing them."
Chvotkin, still on the job and priming for Saturday's game as he nears his 1,300th broadcast, flashes a smile when he thinks about that momentous night.
"I said, 'That's the greatest line in the history of college sports.' That said it all," Chvotkin said. "That statement basically set THE tone for the entire Big East, the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry."
The stars on both teams that followed - Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith and Allen Iverson for Georgetown; and Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens, Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Lawrence Moten, John Wallace, Donovan McNabb, Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara for the Orange - simply created more lasting memories.
In one game at the Carrier Dome, an orange nearly hit Ewing while he was attempting a free throw, prompting Boeheim to grab a microphone and tell the huge home crowd he would forfeit the game outright if conduct like that happened again.
In another, Thompson was called for three technicals on one play, leading to a 10-point swing for the Orange. And part of Syracuse's memorable run through the 2006 Big East tournament behind McNamara's heroics included a victory over Georgetown after the Orange trailed by 15 points.
The finale in the Carrier Dome on Saturday has attracted what will be the largest on-campus crowd for an NCAA regular-season game. It will be the 72nd crowd of greater than 30,000 for a Syracuse men's game, and the Hoyas have been the opponent 17 times.
The game still matters, though maybe not as much as it once did. And expect the students of the new zoo - "Otto's Army" - to swarm the court one final time if the eighth-ranked Orange (22-4, 10-3) prevail over the 11th-ranked Hoyas (20-4, 10-3) with at least a share of first place in the Big East on the line.
Georgetown brings an eight-game winning streak into the game, while Syracuse has won 38 in a row at home.
The schools meet one more time in Washington in the regular-season finale March 9. Both have said they want the series to continue and it most assuredly will. As for the atmosphere going forward, that's anybody's guess.
"I felt it when they left the league, more than anybody," Thompson said. "I felt that in my stomach, because that's something that you didn't think would ever happen because of what we all put into it. I'm certain Jimmy, from listening to his interviews, that disappointed him as well as everybody else, but that's life. It's what happens. We have what we have, and we have to make the best out of it."
Updated February 22, 2013