In defensive struggles, one run is sometimes enough to determine a winner. Friday night, Duke managed one big run, closing the first half of their Sweet Sixteen game against Syracuse with ten straight points to take a lead they would never relinquish. While the Orange (23-14) were able to get within a single point three different times, the Blue Devils (29-7) were able to hold on for a 69-65 win in Omaha, Nebraska.
SU’s offense was effective when they did not turn the ball over. Facing as similar version of their 2-3 zone as they have seen, Syracuse shot 49 percent from the field, their sixth-best single game effort the season, including making 56 percent of their shots in the second half. The Orange, however, were hindered by their 16 turnovers. Duke, who committed just seven turnovers, turned those miscues into 18 points.
The SU defense put forth a strong effort, holding Duke to 39.3 percent shooting overall and a meager 5-for-26 performance from beyond the arc. That stellar perimeter defense included forcing the Blue Devils into missing their last ten shots from deep.
Syracuse matched Duke early, getting a lot of work done inside. Of the Orange’s first seven scores, six were in the paint and four of those baskets were dunks, including three alley-oops that Paschal Chukwu finished. Matthew Moyer’s tip-in less than eight minutes into the action was the last of those inside scores and gave SU a 15-11 lead.
Duke responded with an 8-2 burst, needing just under three minutes to go on top by a deuce. Tyus Battle responded for Syracuse, hitting two three-pointers in a span of three possessions. Each triple gave the Orange a lead of a single point, the latter at 23-22 with just under eight minutes left in the opening half.
SU would nudge that margin to three points a couple minutes later on a Bourama Sidibe tip-in and a pair of foul shots from Frank Howard. Those free throws, however, would be the last points of the half for Syracuse, as they would miss their final five shots of the half and also commit four turnovers.
The Blue Devils, however, broke out of a field goal drought of just under five-and-a-half minutes and tallied the last ten points of the half. The burst gave them a 34-27 halftime lead.
The Orange came out of the break clicking, scoring the first six points of the second half. Howard got a floater to fall, then Oshae Brissett drove the key and banked in a lay-up, prompting a Duke time out. A couple possessions later, Howard dropped a bounce pass to Chukwu, who laid the ball in while being fouled. Chukwu’s foul shot missed, but the basket brought SU within 34-33 with just over two minutes off the clock.
The two squads traded a couple scores, then Duke took off on another run to get some breathing room. The Blue Devils ran off ten of the game’s next 12 points, capping the streak with a pair of three-pointers around a bad ten-second backcourt violation by Battle for a 48-39 lead.
Syracuse was not finished, though, posting a half dozen unanswered points a couple minutes later. Marek Dolezaj connected on a mid-range jumper from the right wing, then Brissett cashed in two free throws. Dolezaj added a flip shot from a little closer in on the right wing, pulling the Orange within 50-47 with just under nine minutes to go.
Duke, however, nudged their lead out to six and had an answer for every SU score. The Blue Devils pushed the lead out to its greatest point at 62-53 with back-to-back baskets, the second forcing a Jim Boeheim time out to reorganize the Orange with 4:07 to play.
The break worked, as Syracuse scored seven of the game’s next eight points. Brissett got a lay-up to get SU back on the board. Following a Blue Devil free throw, Battle connected on a deep three and Brissett drained a jumper from the left wing against the shot clock on the following possession to make it a 63-60 game with under 90 seconds remaining.
The Blue Devils answered with a floater on their next possession and called time out to set their strategy. Howard drew a foul on the perimeter and made both free throws to draw the Orange within 65-62.
SU opted to foul, but two Grayson Allen free throws put Duke back up by five. Battle missed a three, but Dolezaj tapped the ball home to make it 67-64 with 13 seconds left. The Orange again fouled Allen, who missed the front end of the one-and-one and Howard rebounded, giving Syracuse a chance to tie.
The Blue Devils, however, fouled Battle before he could get a shot up with seven seconds to play. Battle missed the first, then made the second. Down two points, the Orange fouled on the inbound pass. Gary Trent Jr. drained both shots for a 69-65 lead, closing the scoring.
Tyus Battle got off to a sizzling start, hitting his first four shots of the night, including three treys, for 11 quick points. Battle would add a fourth three-pointer and finish with 19 to lead SU. Oshae Brissett finished strong, compiling 13 of his 15 points after halftime. Marek Dolezaj hit 6-of-8 shots to add 13 points, including 11 after the break. Paschal Chukwu chipped in with eight points.
Marvin Bagley III led all players with 22 points for Duke. Grayson Allen hit three triples for the bulk of his 15 points and also led all players with eight assists. Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. each added 14 points, the former grabbing a dozen rebounds for a double-double.