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Before Syracuse fell to Duke, an emotional scene for embattled Coach Jim Boeheim

Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim offers a slight wave to the crowd before the Orange took on Duke Saturday. (Nick Lisi/Associated Press)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — As Jim Boeheim emerged from the tunnel, his wife, Juli, couldn’t hold back. Her eyes welled up, and she wiped away the tears. Jamie, the Boeheims’ daughter, draped her arms around her mother.

The game against No. 1 Duke, a 75-65 Blue Devils victory, marked Boeheim’s first public appearance since he was involved in a fatal car crash Wednesday night. After Syracuse’s win that evening against Louisville, Boeheim struck and killed 51-year-old Jorge Jimenez, who was walking along Interstate 690 after he had been involved in a separate crash, according to Syracuse police.

On the court, Boeheim, Syracuse’s Hall of Fame coach, deferred from his normal routine: He didn’t acknowledge the crowd with an initial wave in the tunnel near the Orange bench. He walked toward center court, head down. He hugged his close friend, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“I got a little emotional,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not a hugger. He’s not. When he came out, I thought he was swept up in the emotion. That was very emotional for me. I knew he was feeling this.”

Then Boeheim offered a subtle wave to the crowd, which had greeted him with a standing ovation. Before the game tipped off, the record crowd of 35,642 went quiet, and Jimenez was remembered with a moment of silence.

The Dodge Charger that Jimenez was in Wednesday night ended up perpendicular to a guardrail, and the men in the car attempted to cross the interstate to the road’s median. Boeheim, coming over a hill, swerved to avoid the Charger, which was stretched across two highway lanes. After striking Jimenez, Boeheim stopped and called 911, police said. Neither driver was impaired by drugs or alcohol, police said.

“It’s the toughest thing I’ve had to go through,” Boeheim, 74, said before the game. “It’s not about me. It’s about the family.

“To the Jimenez family: I want them to know how truly devastated I am for my involvement in the loss of their loved,” Boeheim added. “Juli, my family and I are heartbroken.”

Boeheim has coached Syracuse for 43 seasons, winning the 2003 national championship and making five Final Fours. He’s been involved in the program nearly every year since he walked on to the men’s basketball team in 1962.

He met with his team Thursday but did not lead practice. On Thursday evening, ESPN canceled its scheduled “College GameDay” broadcast from the Carrier Dome, where Syracuse broke its own NCAA on-campus attendance record with Saturday’s crowd. The game sold out weeks ago, and courtside seats on the secondary market were selling for more than $7,000.

When asked about his decision to coach, Boeheim said after the game that the death of Jimenez will leave indelible marks.

“All I can say is I felt the responsibility and obligation to my players, the members of my basketball team,” he said. “I recruited these young men to come play at Syracuse University. They needed me to try to do my job tonight, and they understand I did this fully feeling the weight of the tragic accident and its impact on the Jimenez family. This is something that will be with me for the rest of my life.”

Boeheim thanked the fans — the people who have “been here all my life” — and the people who cheered for him from the moment he walked onto the court. They cheered during warmups. They cheered when his name was announced on the public-address system. They gave him a standing ovation, then cheered him with an energy that ricocheted around the sold-out dome.

Boeheim rarely smiles during games, and Saturday was no different. He didn’t waver from his usual sideline antics, berating referees on missed calls and directing players to certain spots. Syracuse players said their coach didn’t change in practice, and they weren’t swallowed up in thoughts about the accident: “It was all basketball the past few days,” Syracuse senior point guard Frank Howard (Paul VI) said.

Brian Hernandez, one of Jimenez’s four children, told ESPN his father worked multiple jobs, loved the New York Yankees and enjoyed fishing. He immigrated to the United States from Cuba nearly 20 years ago, and he loved cooking, cracking jokes and dancing. Boeheim said he has reached out to the family and plans to stay in touch moving forward.

“There is nothing like this when a human life is lost and you’re there. I can’t describe it to you,” Boeheim said. “I’ve talked to many people who have been in that situation, and they say the same thing. This is never going away.”