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Final score: Duke 60, Syracuse 44

Facing Duke’s scorching 2-3 zone, Syracuse somehow reached a new low offensively with Battle, Brissett and Howard all unable to initiate anything in a 31.5% shooting night.

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers flew in rapid succession, superseding the number of shots the Syracuse Orange hit against a newly-stingy Duke Blue Devils zone. As Coach K’s squad took another step toward the top of the sport, the Orange watched Marvin Bagley return and Duke dunk all over them in a 60-44 win.

Bagley’s cuts propelled Duke, catching three alley-oops over the Syracuse defense from Grayson Allen. He took handoffs from Wendell Carter in the post for slams on the back door, outside of that the Blue Devils piled up bricks, but feeding Bagley piled up assists and an 11 point lead early as he caught one more toss before the buzzer.

Duke shot 14-of-45 (31%) outside of Bagley’s 8-of-9 performance, the only semblance of offense as the teams missed 20 straight threes to start the game. Syracuse scored 16 points in the first 20 minutes and both squads hovered around 30 percent shooting at the half.

The Orange found its only success in the post, Carter sent a pair of shots flying but outside of his two blocks Syracuse converted six consecutive shots inside. Tyus Battle raced end-to-end on a missed elbow jumper by Carter, Matthew Moyer followed on a transition feed from Frank Howard while Paschal Chukwu caught three lobs over the back of Duke’s zone.

Both teams chased each other off the three-point line and rotated viciously side-to-side in their two-three zones that have hardened them as two of the better defensive units in the sport.

A sloppy game turned into an absolute mess past halftime. In one minute Howard, Bagley and Oshae Brissett tipped the ball back and forth for four consecutive turnovers. The Orange added two more in a 90 second span, another by Brissett sent Allen running for another wide-open dunk. Then Brissett, after an 0-of-24 start, hit the first three by either side on the left wing to pull within 29-21.

SU and Duke stood nearly even shooting , then 20-of-70 together, but 21 turnovers (13 by Cuse) overtook any flow to the game.

Battle, Howard, and Brissett only hit one shot each through the first 25 minutes, Howard’s eighth miss from three allowed Carter to run for a dunk, then turn around late and smack Howard’s latest look into the crowd. Howard got a foul, but only converted one free throw, before Bagley hit another layup to push Duke to a 10 point advantage.

As the turnovers (14) continued to mount and threaten Syracuse’s chances, Moyer entered with some activity, a free throw, then a block on Trevon Duval that set up Battle for two free throws. But Duke flexed back immediately, Marques Bolden dunked all over Moyer and then the latter traveled for the Orange’s 15th giveaway.

Allen, with Duke yet to hit a three, launched another lob to Carter and put them up 11 points. The difference rested in Duke going to the paint for 28 points, Cuse only getting 12 of 32 there to that point.

Then Duval, 32 minutes in, drained a three for Duke. Worse yet, Chukwu and his six points, 12 rebounds, two steals and block fouled out with 6:45 remaining. The Blue Devils had slammed home nearly as many dunks (12) as Syracuse hit shots (17).

Then Jim Boeheim and Coach K, dueling all night, switched to full-court presses and immediately Battle and Gary Trent traded threes, as many in that sequence as the whole night before it.

But even with plenty of time left, under four minutes, the game swung further Duke’s way. Syracuse bricked a pair of shots and Allen floated a shot in from the paint before Carter backed down with a left-handed hook to put Duke ahead 19.

As Duke’s crowded rained “NIT” chants down on Syracuse in the final minutes, a sweep at the hands of North Carolina’s big three teams leaves the Orange with little time left to prove its worth. Only a trip to Boston College, Clemson in the season-finale and the ACC Tournament remain.