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Duke 80 - Syracuse 72: Orange Fall To Blue Devils In Front Of Record-Tying Crowd

In its third meeting with Duke as ACC rivals, Syracuse came up short Saturday.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

For one half of basketball, it looked like the Syracuse Orange might knock off the Duke Blue Devils at the Carrier Dome for the second straight season Saturday night.

Syracuse led for much of the opening half -- even grabbing a 34-23 lead at the 3:30 mark -- behind a three-point barrage spearheaded by Michael Gbinije. Gbinije, who transferred from Duke in 2012 after playing his freshman season for the Blue Devils, went 5-of-6 from three-point range in the first half to collect 19 points.

"Mike's playing great," head coach Jim Boeheim said. "I don't think you can ask any player to do anything more than what Mike's doing...He's playing as good as anybody, any player. I mean, he's doing everything."

But Duke adjusted to Gbinije and Syracuse's offensive attack in the second half, when Gbinije took just five shots and scored only eight points, finishing 10-of-14 from the field with a career-high 27 points. The Blue Devils won the half 44-33, securing a 80-72 win -- their first at Syracuse since the Orange joined the ACC prior to last season.

"In the second half, I came in with the same mindset but...the game was just different," said Gbinije.

But one thing that wasn't much different in either half was the performance put forth by Rakeem Christmas, who played as poorly as he has all season. The senior, going head-to-head with freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor, went 5-of-17 from the field and scored 11 points, several of which came after the outcome had all but been decided.

"He just didn't quite get to the basket," Boeheim said of Christmas. "He had some good looks. The ball just didn't go down for him."

Struggling alongside Christmas was his co-captain, Trevor Cooney. Cooney went 4-of-14 from the field (3-of-10 from three) and made just one of his seven field goal attempts in the second half. He scored 11 points to go along with six rebounds, five steals, and three turnovers. In Syracuse's last four games, the junior is now 18-of-55 from the field and 9-of-37 from beyond the arc.

"Shooters are going to be up-and-down," Boeheim said. "He had a couple looks that he missed...He had [a fast break opportunity] in the first half and he had two in the second half. If he converts those three, he's got a good game."

Christmas and Cooney's struggles made Gbinije's peformance that much more vital to the Orange at least keeping the game close. Forward Tyler Roberson aided Gbinije in the effort, totaling 19 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals -- the best numbers he's posted in any game this season.

But unfortunately for the Orange, Gbinije and Roberson couldn't manage to do enough to earn SU its eighth win in ACC play. That can at least be partially credited to Okafor, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds to notch his ninth double-double of the season.

"I said when I saw him that he's the best big guy I've seen come along in a long time," Boeheim said. "He's got as good of footwork as any big guy I've seen...He's a very, very good offensive player."

Okafor had 16 of his 23 points in the second half, a half Duke opened on a 16-4 run to erase Syracuse's lead. It's become a common theme for the Orange, who have led at halftime in each of their past three losses -- coming against North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and, now, Duke -- only to fall short in the second half.

"We're not getting blown out," Cooney said. "We're not losing by a lot. I mean, we're right there. It just comes down to one or two baskets, or one or two stops, really...We just need to find a way to win."

That's not something the Orange have done much of recently. Since starting ACC play winning four straight, they're now 3-5 in their last eight games.

Two of those losses have come at home in front of the two largest on-campus crowds at any college basketball game this season. In attendance for Saturday's game were 35,446 fans, tying the on-campus record Syracuse set in last season's meeting.

From here, it doesn't get much easier for SU. The Orange play host to the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals on Wednesday. Tipoff from the Carrier Dome is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.