Durham, N.C. — With the Syracuse Orange trailing 11-0 to Duke early in the first half at Cameron Indoor, Jim Boeheim was forced to call a timeout less than three minutes into the game. He was getting shaky play from his point guards as Frank Howard picked up a pair of quick fouls and Jalen Carey picked up a pair of quick turnovers. A Zion Williamson made free throw then gave Duke a 12-0 lead before Tyus Battle began to take over.
By the second media timeout, Battle was running point guard for Syracuse. Tre Jones had picked up full court and applied pressure defensively to the Orange guards but Battle was able to bring the ball up without being hounded. Jones would later go down with a shoulder injury that would keep him from competing the rest of the way, but R.J. Barrett had the honor of guarding Battle.
Playing the lead guard is something Battle is familiar with at this point. He had to do it last year against Michigan State when Howard fouled out and he did it earlier this season when both Howard and Carey were out in the early season with ankle injuries. Battle has played point well before his days at Syracuse, too.
“I mean I’m comfortable with it regardless. I mean I’ve been doing it my whole life, bringing the ball up, playing the point, playing different positions. I’m comfortable with it,” Battle said.
Whether or not the early season reps at the point helped or not, Jim Boeheim couldn’t be sure. He said in the post-game presser that Battle really is more or less just bringing the ball up the court and running a straight drive, similar to how Syracuse used Michael Gbinije in the 2015-16 season.
“He brings it up and he’s played the point this year. That’s really, he’s really not playing the point we’re just running a straight drive for him like we did with Mike Gbinije when he was here and just try to attack off that,” Boeheim said.
That worked out pretty well for Syracuse in the first half as Battle went on to score 12 of Syracuse’s 15 points in a stretch that brought the Orange back within a point. Syracuse trailed by 12 points early, but thanks to Battle got right back into the game at the 12:14 mark trailing 18-17.
“We weren’t worried,” Battle said post-game. “Teams make runs, that’s how the game goes. We knew were going to start scoring. We knew our defense, we were going to get stops on the defensive end and that’s what happened.”
Battle continued his first half efforts and made six free throws en route to a 20-point performance in 20 minutes.
In the second half, Howard was able to settle in and played some of his best basketball of the season. He scored 16 points and his backcourt mate continued to score with the luxury of being off-ball.
A lay-up and a jumper early in the second gave Battle 24 points. A dunk shortly thereafter gave him 26. With Howard taking over through the meat of the second half, Battle was able to save his best work for last.
“I think being able to save Frank the end of the first half, like six, seven minutes I think was key to the game because he made big plays,” Boeheim said. “The last play was, not many guys can make that lob pass. Most guys throw it up and he made a perfect pass.”
Boeheim said that Howard and Paschal Chukwu made a huge difference and that Battle was phenomenal. As he’s done more often that not, Battle came through in crunch time again. A floater with just over five minutes left had Syracuse back to within one. A jumper by Battle with 1:13 on the clock gave Syracuse the lead.
BAH. GAWD. THATS TYUS BATTLE’S MUSIC. pic.twitter.com/4kFB4RrPdZ— James Szuba (@JamesSzuba) January 15, 2019
With the game tied and Syracuse having the final possession, Battle missed a potential game-winner. He got it back in overtime though as another Battle jumper gave Syracuse an 89-88 lead, one the Orange wouldn’t relinquish.
Battle finished his night with 32 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists and went 7-7 from the free throw line the overtime victory at Cameron Indoor. It was the first time Duke had lost to an unranked opponent at home and it also put Boeheim tied for first place with the most wins over a No. 1 ranked opponent on the road (3).
Asked how it felt to win on a stage like last that, Battle said that’s what dreams are made of.
“I just love being out there playing basketball against such a good team, great coaches,” Battle said. “This is the stuff you dream about growing up. So I’m just happy with these guys. We just work so hard. This was a big one for us.”