Only one team can say they won the last game of the season, and unfortunately it wasn’t the Syracuse Orange, as their impressive March run came to an end in the Sweet 16. It was asking a lot out of the Orange to come out and beat arguably the best team in the tournament, but the Duke Blue Devils gave Syracuse numerous chances to seize control, but they just couldn’t take advantage when it mattered most.
Whenever it looked like the Blue Devils were about pull away and seal the win, the relentless Syracuse basketball team we saw all year continued to never quit. Whether it be tough shots from Tyus Battle, or penetration from Oshae Brissett, the Orange just wouldn’t give in.
However, the valiant effort wasn’t enough, as Duke’ superior talent showed their full arsenal as the clock dwindled down. But what led to the Orange falling four points shy of the Elite 8?
Well, the struggle to get the ball to the high post hurt the Orange on the offensive end, as it is near impossible to beat a zone when you are stuck with the ball solely on the perimeter. The key to beating a zone, as we saw Marvin Bagley III do all night long, is getting the ball to the high post, as it collapses the zone, allowing for an open shot to be found.
Syracuse had success scoring the ball when Marek Dolezaj or Brissett caught the ball in the middle, but they failed to find them inside in the final minutes. The lack of penetration led to the perimeter players forcing tough shots, which eventually didn’t fall, thus ending the magical run the Orange were on.
It wasn’t only the tough shots late that hurt the Orange, but it was their 16 turnovers, 12 in the first half, that put them in hole that ended up being too big to overcome. After two successful alley-oops early in the first half, Frank Howard started to force some questionable alley-oop passes that failed to convert.
Teams have beaten zones this year with the backdoor lob, but the Orange were forcing it on multiple occasions, allowing the Blue Devils’ already powerful offense to have easy fast break opportunities.
It wasn’t just the offensive end that hurt the Orange late, but it was their inability to finish defensive possessions with a rebound that doomed them too. The Blue Devils finished with 16 offensive rebounds, just two more than the Orange, but Duke’s came in key situations when the Orange were chipping their way back into the ballgame.
You can’t beat a team like Duke without making the small plays that matter most late, as we saw in the final minutes when the Blue Devils were able to capitalize on their second chance opportunities.
Battle did all he could to give the Orange a chance to win it late, but his team high 18 points weren’t enough to push the Orange into an “Elite” category.
No one can deny how much heart and effort this team put into this game, as even coach Jim Boeheim mentioned after that they had seven players for the majority of the season. This tournament run will only make next year’s influx of talent even more exciting, as hopefully they can make an even deeper run once again.