Syracuse’s 64-62 win over No. 20 Duke on Monday night gave the Orange a signature win for its NCAA resume and gave starting point guard Michael Gbinije a satisfying win against his old team.
Gbinije was one of four different Syracuse players to finish with 14 points and had a team-high nine assists in the win. He also drained a key 3-pointer with 5:24 left to give SU its largest lead of the game, 59-51.
A minute later, he executed a flawless pick-and-roll with Tyler Roberson, delivering a precision pass for an easy layup.
“I can’t tell you how great he was tonight,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said during his post-game press conference.
It didn’t start that way for the fifth-year senior, who had a rough start with almost as many fouls (3) as points (4) in the first half. The third foul was particularly frustrating to Gbinije, who was called for an offensive foul after appearing to push off with his off hand on a drive with 2:23 left in the first half.
Despite early foul trouble, Gbinije played 38 minutes, and made a concerted effort to get the ball inside in the second half.
“He’s going 40 minutes, kids can do that these days with the timeouts,” Boeheim said. “But the point guard playing 40 minutes and you have to drive is different than if you are playing forward or center because you don’t get any rest.”
This is the kind of game Gbinije had originally envisioned having when he began his college career four years ago as a member of the Blue Devils.
But after receiving only limited playing time during his freshman year under Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Gbinije moved north, transferring to Syracuse in 2012.
Joining Boeheim and the Orange during the 2013-2014 campaign, Gbinije’s first two return journeys to Duke were met with disappointment. The first trip back to Cameron Indoor, now known as Boeheim’s infamous “jacket-toss game,” resulted in a 66-60 Syracuse loss.
Last year, Syracuse was routed by 19 points, and Gbinije was serenaded with chants of “We Don’t Miss You” from the Cameron Crazies.
But the third time proved to be the charm for Gbinije and company in what would be his last opportunity to win as a visitor on his former home court.
“That definitely felt good,” Gbinije said to reporters following the game. “It was one of my favorite experiences in college.”
Gbinije is hoping for a few more of those kinds of experiences in his final collegiate season. With Syracuse on a three-game winning streak, an NCAA berth is far more possible than it was two weeks ago after Syracuse lost its fourth straight game to open conference play.
A win against a ranked opponent—its first since the Battle 4 Atlantis—certainly helped that possibility.
“We still can get better, we’re going to have to,” Boeheim said. “We’ve got a long way to go and a lot of tough games ahead of us.”