ACC Basketball

Blue Devils Squeeze the Orange

Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT JUST HAPPENED:
The Duke Blue Devils started the game fumbling the ball away, but once they were able to hold onto the rock, Syracuse had no real shot. Up 17-16 midway through the second, Justise Winslow personally went on a 9-2 run, helping Duke to a 34-25 lead at the half. In the second, an early 13-2 Blue Devil run blew the game open, as the Orange never got closer than 15 in the game’s final 12 minutes, as Duke wrapped up their ninth straight win, 73-54.

FIVE DEEP THOUGHTS:

  • On Wednesday, the Duke Blue Devils played arguable their worst defensive game of the year against lowly Virginia Tech. However, they came back strong Saturday as they held Syracuse to 30.6% shooting from the field. Granted, the Orange are not a great shooting team. Yet, they could take advantage of the pressure Duke was putting above the three-line, since no one can really attack the paint at a high level. At one point the Orange had 14 baskets to 14 turnovers and finished the game with just 19 buckets, 10 assists and 15 turnovers.
  • Back in their first meeting, Jahlil Okafor got the better of Rakeem Christmas, but really just for a half. This time, Okafor owned Christmas. The Duke freshman, dealing with double teams all night, scored 14 and would have been a lot better if it wasn’t for a pathetic 1-for-7 from the FT line. Christmas had no ability to keep Okafor out of his comfort spot, despite physical play, relying on and failing with just his length. On offense the senior scored 11 points, making just three baskets. He fouled out with over nine minutes to go and to be honest, he didn’t even look like he minded so much.
  • Let’s touch on Okafor again. With Coach K going small, starting Winslow at the four spot, against the zone, Okafor was often the only man under the basket for rebounds, battling a trio of Orange. Yet, he still managed to pull down 14, including seven offensive rebounds. The smaller team won the board battle, 41-36.
  • I know Jim Boeheim isn’t known for being one of the leading X-and-O guys, but I swear it seems like this team isn’t running an offense. How do you beat Duke? It’s simple, even if you lack good penetration guards. Run a ton of screens, I mean 3-4 per possession. With no depth, the pounding and the running would start to have an effect. Instead, the game was a ton of one-on-one, with Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney putting up 36 shots, hitting just 10, going 3-for-17 from deep. If it wasn’t for the numbers on the jersey, I would have missed both Kaleb Joseph and B.J. Anderson.
  • Syracuse doubled up Okafor most of the night, but early in the game, it was sort of a soft double. In the second with Christmas in foul trouble, the Orange began to play “anyone but Okafor” defense, doubling the Duke big man hard the second he touched the ball. It wasn’t a dumb strategy, since the Blue Devils were 2-12 from deep in the game’s first 24 minutes. However, they eventually started nailing those open looks, hitting five of their next seven and six of their last 11 for the game.

RANDOM NOT-SO-DEEP THOUGHTS

  • Justise Winslow…I wish someone with more free time would keep track, but when was the last time Winslow drove to the paint and got an assist? Seriously, when he attacks, he always goes to score. Granted, he hit 10-for-16 on the night, so I can’t blame him.
  • Syracuse shot 3-for-20 from three, which doesn’t even show had bad they were because two of those made threes came in the final minutes with Duke taking the foot off the gas.
  • When Duke has assists on at least 50% of their shots, they are 20-o on the year, 5-3 when they don’t.
  • Trevor Cooney is the clear favorite to win the “worst starter in the ACC” award. After a 1-for-6 night from three, he’s hit just 2 of his last 19 and 20 of his last 88 (23%).
  • Tyler Roberson’s two best games of his career have come against Duke. He had 19 points in the last meeting and 16 Saturday night.
  • Okafor is now just 5-22 from the charity stripe, going cold at the wrong time in the season. Why or why won’t someone play hack-a-For? If I’m facing Duke and the game is tight in the final 10 minutes, when I am able to sub in a scrub, I put him in and foul Jahlil. The dude is hitting 22% from the FT line his last three games. He’s hit 64% of his 39 shots from the floor in that same timeframe. Do the math people.

WHAT NOW
The Syracuse season is just about over. Joe Lunardi says the Orange wouldn’t make the tournament even if they were eligible, which is true, but who knows how they would have played if they had something to play for. Anyhow, they have dropped five of seven and haven’t won back-to-back games since January 13.

For Duke, they improve to 26-3, 12-3 in the ACC. At this point, the best they can do is tie Virginia for first in the conference, yet they will remain a 1-seed until they loss. They got Wake Forest coming to town next, before the finale in Chapel Hill.

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