A quick take on Syracuse’s 84-72 loss to Duke in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament:
WHAT HAPPENED: Buddy Boeheim’s 3-pointer with 13:02 to go tied the game at 46, completing a stunning turnaround for the Orange, who had trailed by as many as 17 in the first half. But Duke responded with a 7-2 run to take a 55-49 lead with 10:07 left, and the Blue Devils slowly pushed the lead back to double-digits. Trey Jones’ steal from Elijah Hughes led to a runout for RJ Barrett, whose emphatic windmill slam put Duke up 82-67 with 1:14 on the clock, and an exclamation point on advancing to the ACC Semifinals. The game had the makings of a blowout early, with Zion Williamson’s nifty one-handed dunk putting the Blue Devils up 32-15 with 3:41 in the half. But Frank Howard scored 10 straight points for SU, and the Orange trailed by just six points at half, making this a far more competitive game than most would’ve thought.
ANALYSIS: Playing without its leading scorer, Tyus Battle, for the second straight game, the Orange put up a valiant effort against a Duke team that likely features four first round picks in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft. But even with the loss, SU accomplished its goal at the ACC Tournament, which was to avoid a Quad 3 loss to Pittsburgh and reach the 20-win plateau to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now that Syracuse isn’t on the bubble, it can focus on getting Battle healthy and prepare for what will likely be an 8/9 matchup next week. While the Orange may have struggled against the upper tier of the ACC, it still finished with an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 93.9 according to KenPom, which was good for 21st in the nation. To teams that are unfamiliar with the zone, it remains a potent weapon for Syracuse as it looks to make another deep NCAA run.
HERO: Williamson was absolutely unstoppable in his first game back from a knee injury, scoring 29 points on a perfect 13-13 shooting from the field to go with 14 rebounds, five steals and two assists. Barrett chipped in 23 points and six rebounds for the Blue Devils.
ZERO: Frank Howard had one of his best games of the season, leading Syracuse with 28 points and three assists. But he will be remembered more for what appeared to be an intentional trip of Williamson in the first half. The Orange can ill afford to lose Howard to a suspension, which may happen as a result of his conduct.
WHAT’S NEXT: Selection Sunday. For the first time in four years, the Orange knows it has a spot at the table, so the only question is where Syracuse is headed, as opposed to if they’re headed anywhere at all.