On an emotionally charged night, Syracuse’s offense faltered again and they could not make a halftime lead hold up. This time, the Orange had a five-point lead at the break, but they barely shot 30 percent from the field in the second half, including making just four of their final 23 field goal attempts, allowing #1 Duke to come from behind and pull away in the final six minutes for a 75-65 win in front of a record crowd of 35,642 at the Carrier Dome on Saturday.
While SU’s offense was misfiring, their defense also allowed the Blue Devils to come to life. After holding Duke to just 40 percent shooting in the first half, including a miserly 3-of-15 from long range, the Devils shot just under 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from long range in the second half.
The result saw Syracuse slide to 18-9 on the season and 9-5 in ACC play. The Orange remain in a tie for sixth place in the conference with Florida State. Duke advanced to 24-3 overall with a 12-2 conference mark, keeping their spot in a three-way knot atop the league.
SU held the advantage for most of the first half. Duke briefly jumped in front, 7-5, on a three-pointer under five minutes into the action. Syracuse responded a minute later with Frank Howard’s second three-pointer of the opening six minutes and a lay-up from Elijah Hughes for a three-point lead.
The Blue Devils and Orange then spent four minutes where the guests would score and the hosts would match. With under eight minutes left in the opening half, Duke got a dunk and a pair of free throws to break the streak and take a 23-22 lead with just over seven minutes on the clock.
SU responded with the biggest run of the half from either side, posting six straight points, all from Marek Dolezaj. Tyus Battle worked the pick-and-roll with Dolezaj for a lay-up, then the forward leaked out past the Devils for a long Howard outlet pass for a lay-up. Dolezaj then closed the streak with a fake and drive through the left side capped with an authoritative one-handed slam for a 28-23 Syracuse lead.
The two teams then returned to trading markers and the Orange held a 34-29 lead at intermission. SU maintained their lead for the opening four minutes of the second half, save for a brief moment when Duke grabbed the slimmest of margins. Battle answered with two foul shots and Oshae Brissett stepped through on a nice post move for a lay-up and a 41-38 lead.
Syracuse nudged their lead out to four on their next possession, but the Duke offense started to click. The Blue Devils ran off a 9-1 run, including a four-point play, for a 48-44 lead.
The Orange replied with six of the game’s next eight points, knotting the score at 50 with 12:46 to play. SU got everything in that run inside, as Paschal Chukwu slammed home an alley-oop from Howard, Dolezaj converted an offensive rebound on the doorstep, and Battle dropped in a pretty reverse lay-in.
And that’s when the Orange became unable to buy a shot, closing the game on a 4-for-23 shooting streak.
The Blue Devils went on an 8-2 run to take a lead they would not relinquish. When Dolezaj ended the stretch with a transition lay-in, it ended a drought of nearly five minutes. Hughes added two foul shots, drawing SU within a deuce with under seven minutes to go.
Duke piled on the next seven points for a 65-56 lead. Syracuse clipped the lead to five, but the guests got an offensive board and a dunk. A Battle foul shot made the gap six and the Orange were fortunate that R.J. Barrett missed the front end of a one-and-one chance. Brissett was fouled trying to rebound that miss, but missed both his foul shots.
Duke would add four free throws, pushing their lead to 71-61 with 53 seconds to play. SU would never get closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Tyus Battle struggled with his shot throughout the night, finishing 4-of-17 from the field, but eventually cobbled together 16 points to lead the Orange. Elijah Hughes added a dozen points and Marek Dolezaj and Frank Howard each chipped in with ten, the latter adding all of his before halftime.
R.J. Barrett shot 14-of-20 for the Blue Devils, piling up 30 points, and handed out seven assists. Alex O’Connell, who was promoted into the starting lineup by Duke due to Zion Williamson’s absence, torched SU for five three-pointers and 20 points. Tre Jones also reached double digits, finishing with 11 points.
The Orange hit the road Tuesday night for their next game with #8 North Carolina. The Tar Heels (22-5, 12-2) who are part of the three-way logjam atop the ACC, defeated Duke on the road Wednesday night and backed that win by running away from #16 FSU on Saturday, 77-59.
Three different players average at least 15 points per game for Carolina, led by Cameron Johnson, a Pitt transfer averaging 16.7 points per outing. Coby White (15.2 pts/game) and Luke Maye (15.1 pts and 9.9 rebs per game) also provide scoring punch for the Heels. All three players have also made at least 30 three-pointers apiece on the season, as has Kenny Williams.
Tuesday will see a late start for the SU-UNC contest, as tip-off is set for 9:00pm. The game will be available on television in certain local markets and that telecast will also be available online at ESPN3.com and through the ESPN app.