A quick take on Syracuse’s tough 69-65 loss to Duke Friday night in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, in front of a near sell-out crowd (17,560) at CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha:
WHAT HAPPENED: The fantastic Syracuse NCAA run came to an end, although the Orange (23-14) went down fighting. Duke (29-7) led by seven at halftime, and SU came within two points with under 0:10 to play, but Duke hit enough foul shots to hold on. The ‘Cuse shooting soured overall in the second half (only one three point basket) and Duke’s interior game was superior when it needed offense to keep SU at bay. From finally winning in the ACC Tournament, being the last team in the NCAA field, a First Four play-in game to the Sweet 16, it was a stellar postseason for this year’s team that finished 8-10 in the ACC.
ANALYSIS: Both teams struggled shooting from the outside, so the incredibly athletic Duke front line showed its prowess as the Blue Devils kept attacking the SU zone down low getting the thin Orange roster into foul trouble. Both teams threw numerous lob passes over the top of the zone, with Duke’s one-and-done star Marvin Bagley III the biggest beneficiary from teammate passes finishing with a game high 22 points. Tyus Battle carried SU offensively with 19 points, and Oshae Brissett had 15. Marek Dolezaj continued his great postseason scoring 13, but Frank Howard struggled finishing with just six points.
HERO: Bagley III was marvelous in attacking the basket against Orange big men Paschal Chukwu and Bourama Sidibie, finishing with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting, and chipped in with eight rebounds. No reason not to think he will be the first selection in June’s NBA Draft.
ZERO: Too many self-inflicted wounds hurt any chance of pulling the big upset (SU was an 11 point underdog). The Orange finished with 16 turnovers (10/6) and those missed opportunities, along with leaving six points at the foul line, were critical in trying to knock off the region’s No. 2 seed.
WHAT’S NEXT: The off season, following a gratifying NCAA run after being the last team selected for the 68 team field, victories over Arizona State, TCU, and iced with the win over Michigan State in Detroit, no less. With Battle moving up in the NBA Draft projections and Brissett likely to take a look, three other returning starters and three key bench players will be joined by a talented transfer eligible player and an impressive trio of recruits. Jim Boeheim’s 43rd season will include the rarity of coaching son Buddy, one of those three incoming freshmen, set to bring some outside shooting to the Orange’s future offensive arsenal.