Duke shrugs off slow start, pulls away from Syracuse 80-72

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Gbinije’s 27 points weren’t enough for the Orange

It took #5 Duke just over a dozen minutes to outscore Syracuse by a 36-14 margin in the middle of the game and that was more than enough to power the Blue Devils to an 80-72 win at the Carrier Dome on Saturday night. The big run wiped out an 11-point lead for the Orange (16-9, 7-5 ACC) and propelled Duke (22-3, 9-3) to their own 11-point lead near the midpoint of the second half. SU would never get within four points the rest of the way.

The Blue Devils tore apart the Syracuse defense in the second half, starting the session 10-of-11 from the field en route to shooting 61.9 percent from the floor after the break. That hot shooting span coincided with the final push of their dominant run.

The Orange forced 15 turnovers, but gave most of that back by being thumped on the glass, getting outrebounded by a 42-32 margin. Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson did a lot of good work on offense, making 18-of-28 shots from the field, but it simply was not enough. Once again, the SU bench provided no offensive punch, finishing with zero points while Duke got 15 points from their reserves.

Tyler Roberson got the Orange in the scorebook by finishing a nice drive with a spin to knot the game at two a side, then set up Gbinije for a right corner three-pointer to give Syracuse their first lead at 5-4. That beginning set the tone for SU, as those two players would provide a lot of the offensive punch on the night.

Trevor Cooney hit a pair of threes around a Roberson free throw for a streak of seven straight Syracuse points and a 12-6 lead with a little more than five minutes off the clock. Duke would clip the margin to a deuce, but Gbinije finished a spin through the lane with a lay-up and Cooney turned a loose ball into a lay-up of his own to reinstate a six-point Orange lead.

The Blue Devils replied with six straight points to tie the game at 18-18, but Gbinije took over the game.

The forward found himself on the receiving end of a cross-court pass from Rakeem Christmas and stuck a three-pointer from the left corner. Two possessions later, Gbinije used a Christmas screen to get free for a three off the left wing. Two possessions after that, Gbinije buried a long three from the right wing to make it a personal 9-0 run and a 27-18 Syracuse lead.

Following a Duke bucket, Gbinije found Roberson off a long rebound and the sophomore connected on a jumper. Shortly after, Roberson would power home a shot from the low post, then Gbinije would bury his fifth three of the opening half. The bomb gave SU a 34-23 lead with 3:32 left in the opening half.

The Blue Devils roared back, using a 13-3 run to slash the Orange lead to a single point with 1:30 left in the first half. Gbinije stopped the bleeding with a pull-up jumper in the lane for a 39-36 Syracuse lead that would hold until the half.

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Duke continued their strong play out of the locker room, needing less than four-and-a-half minutes to hang a 13-2 run on SU and seize control and a 49-41 lead. The Orange offense would eventually come to life and Gbinije would hit a circus shot as part of a three-point-play to draw SU within 55-48. The Blue Devils were not shaken, scoring the next four points to take their own 11-point lead with 11:22 on the clock.

Gbinije and Roberson would combine for back-to-back scores for the Orange for the first time in the half to clip the Duke lead to 61-54 with just over nine minutes left. Shortly after, Kaleb Joseph would connect from the right elbow to pull SU within 62-56. On the next possession, Gbinije would help Syracuse keep pace with a deft touch pass to a cutting Roberson, who scored to make it 64-58.

Christmas followed a Duke score with a face-up jumper from the right wing, then Roberson dropped in a pair from the line to make it a 66-62 game just after the under-four media timeout.

The Orange could not score on their next two trips and the Blue Devils punished them for it, adding a pair of free throws and a dunk to their side of the ledger to make it an eight-point lead. Gbinije responded with a drive to make it 70-64 with 1:45 to play and SU called time out.

Out of the break, Syracuse went to their full-court press and forced a turnover. Gbinije drew a foul on the ensuing SU possession and got the bounce on the first one at the line to make it a five-point game. Gbinije missed the second, but came up with the long rebound for the Orange.

On the ensuing possession, Christmas could not connect on a lay-up and Joseph would have a three from the left wing rattle out. The Blue Devils rebounded Joseph’s miss and the Orange opted to foul, starting a Duke parade to the foul line with 49.4 seconds remaining. The strategy failed, as the Blue Devils made all ten of their free throws down the stretch, never allowing SU to close within five points the rest of the way.

Michael Gbinije had a career night against his former team, pouring in a personal-best 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Gbinije had 19 points, including all five of his three-pointers, in the first half. Tyler Roberson had possibly his best night at Syracuse, finishing with a double-double of 19 points and ten boards.

Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney both had rough shooting nights, combining to finish 9-of-31 from the field, but scored 11 points apiece. Christmas complemented his scoring with five blocks and Cooney dropped in three triples for the bulk of his scoring, but went through a stretch of ten straight misses after making his first three shots.

Duke had four players reach double figures in scoring, led by Jahlil Okafor, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds. Okafor did most of his damage after the break, pouring in 16 points in the second half. Quinn Cook added 12 of his 17 points after intermission, while Justise Winslow had a dozen and Tyus Jones chipped in with 11.

The schedule does not get any easier for the Orange, as #8 Louisville pays a visit to the Carrier Dome on Wednesday night. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4) had won five of their last six games before being upset at North Carolina State on Saturday, 74-65.

Louisville features a balanced scoring attack to go with their frenetic defense, as four players average in double digits in scoring. Terry Rozier paces the Cards at 18.0 points per game and All-ACC performer Montrezl Harrell, who posts averages of 14.8 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, will provide a second straight premier matchup with SU’s Rakeem Christmas.

The Cards also feature three volume shooters from long range, as Rozier, Chris Jones, and Wayne Blackshear all have at least 36 threes made on the season, but none of the three makes as many as 35 percent on the season. Louisville, as a team, has made 31.2 percent of their shots from deep.

Tip-off is set for 7:00pm Eastern and the contest will be televised by ESPN. The game will also be available online at ESPN3.com

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Jim Stechschulte

About Jim Stechschulte

A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.
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