Duke torches Syracuse from beyond the arc in season-altering 85-71 loss

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For the second straight game, Syracuse found itself down big in the second half and turned to a full-court press. On its first try, Syracuse forced a jump ball. Then Kadary Richmond intercepted the inbounds pass, and Syracuse cut Duke’s 21-point lead to 14. 

But unlike Notre Dame, Duke had the athleticism and skill to not only decipher the press, but punish it. After the Blue Devils settled down, Duke broke down SU’s press with ease. Jordan Goldwire dribbled through a trap and right down the middle of the court. Wendell Moore Jr. got a free layup off the press break. A cross-court pass led to a Mark Williams alley-oop — something of a recurring theme on Monday.

Syracuse (13-7, 7-6 Atlantic Coast) had to turn to the press because Duke shot SU out of Cameron Indoor Stadium in the first half, making over half its 3-pointers in a dominant, tone-setting performance. Apart from a brief stretch of the disruptive press, the Blue Devils (11-8, 9-6) controlled everything in a 85-71 win.

A late February Syracuse-Duke game usually isn’t a bubble game for both teams. But this year, everyone in Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday night — there weren’t fans in one of college basketball’s signature venues this year — was on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi. 

The teams’ bubble statuses made Monday a natural inflection point. The drubbing sets Duke and Syracuse on divergent paths, with the Blue Devils inching toward an NCAA Tournament bid and the Orange fading away. Syracuse’s fourth-straight loss to Duke will likely be a major catalyst in keeping SU out of March Madness for the third time since 2014. 

Duke looked more athletic from the opening tip. Williams opened the game with a dunk, and finished an alley-oop lob minutes later. He flushed a right-handed dunk on the fast break seconds after a Syracuse timeout, too. 

But it wasn’t just Williams. Duke’s guards harassed Syracuse’s shooters, running them off the 3-point line and putting pressure on each dribble. Joe Girard III fumbled the ball off his foot, Quincy Guerrier stepped out of bounds in the corner trying to drive and Alan Griffin had a crossover pick-pocketed. 

The Blue Devils hit from downtown in the halfcourt and in semi-transition, but never in isolation. Each of Duke’s first 10 field goals were assisted, and it started 10-for-16 from deep. 

Syracuse had been outrebounded in all six of its losses this year coming into Monday, and that trend continued. Without center Bourama Sidibe (knee), the onus is on the frontline of Guerrier, Griffin and Marek Dolezaj to finish possessions. Duke’s frontline continuously kept missed shots alive by either back-tapping rebounds or tipping them in. 

Duke led by as much as 22 and took a 52-34 lead into halftime. Syracuse’s chances at a Quadrant 1 victory dwindled to a desperate final 20 minutes. Then SU turned to the press, which worked in spurts. But Duke quickly adjusted, taking advantage of SU’s over-aggression, something the Fighting Irish failed to do in Syracuse’s 20-point comeback win last Saturday. 

“Syracuse looks a little tired, don’t they?” ESPN broadcaster Sean McDonough asked as DJ Steward walked into his fourth 3 after Duke beat the press. 

Desperation didn’t beat talent. Williams continued to control the offensive glass, getting two putbacks — including a one-handed sky off a missed 3. Another putback lay-in halfway through the second half gave him a career-high 16 points and pushed Duke’s lead back to 20. He finished with 18 and 11, his first career double-double.

Duke Men’s Basketball takes on the Syracuse University Orange in the first half at the Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 22, 2021 at Durham, North Carolina.

Matthew Hurt had 15 points in Duke’s dominant win over Syracuse. Courtesy of Duke Athletics

Prior to Monday, Syracuse held opponents to 31.2% from behind the arc, the 60th best mark in the nation. SU’s wings shifted past the arc, but Duke still managed to consistently create wide-open looks by moving the ball swiftly. Jeremy Roach and Steward both sunk four 3s. As a team, Duke shot 13-for-29 from 3, and Syracuse never cut Duke’s lead to single digits. 

When Syracuse beat Virginia Tech at home on Jan. 23, it looked like the Orange had a shot at making a real run. It was their first victory over a team in KenPom’s top 40, but registered as a Quadrant 2 win because of VT’s NET ranking. In the weeks after the VT win, Syracuse got crushed by Clemson and then-No. 8 Virginia, its next two shots at marquee wins. 

Now, despite entering Monday’s contest on a three-game winning streak, Syracuse will board the plane back to central New York without a Quadrant 1 win on the season.

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