Trailing 84-83 with just under two minutes remaining in regulation and with possession, Syracuse Orange guard Tyus Battle collected the ball on the right wing inside of Cameron Indoor Stadium and looked to attack. He crossed over left-to-right, right-to-left and then back left-to-right and drove the lane past Jack White before throwing up a shot that was blocked by Marques Bolden.
Battle retreated to the defensive end and slapped hands with Frank Howard, his backcourt mate of three seasons. The two of them had been in that scenario before. In a dire situation that seemed to turn the tide in Duke’s favor, Syracuse dug in deep and earned a defensive stop.
Just two days prior, senior point guard Howard was circled by reporters in the Syracuse locker room attempting to explain a home loss to Georgia Tech. After a tough shooting night against the Yellow Jacket, he verbalized his confidence in his team and their ability to make shots. He explained how Syracuse just needed to get its grit back.
When asked about how the team would handle No. 1 ranked Duke with Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, Howard said they have a great team and a great coach while explaining Syracuse is, “not in awe about that type of stuff.”
After the Goergia Tech loss Howard said he was in the team’s ear and texted them saying to stay focused and don’t forget who they are. Jim Boeheim challenged him on his lack of assertion, not taking control and not going for 50/50 balls. Syracuse was missing its edge that it played with so frequently last year and it showed in the first few minutes of the Duke game on Monday.
The Orange came out flat and the Blue Devils came roaring out of the gates to a 12-0 lead. Boeheim was forced to burn a timeout less than three minutes into the game. When the team convened in the huddle, Howard was vocal saying, “we’re good, we’re good.”
Elijah Hughes said he knew Duke would go on a run on its home court and that Syracuse would just have to stay composed. Battle said he too expected runs from the opposition and knew it’d be important to stayed poised.
“I wasn’t worried. I mean that’s what basketball is. It’s a game of runs. Teams make huge runs like that, we made a huge run to get back in the game. We weren’t surprised. They’re a very good team,” Battle said.
Syracuse fought right back with a run of its own as Battle shined, ripping off 12 of Syracuse’s 15 points in an early stretch to right the Orange ship. He got Syracuse back to within one on a series of floaters, step-backs and contested jumpers. Syracuse was starting to play with some fortitude.
That early display of resolve was synonymous with that at the end of the game. In the waning moments when the Orange could’ve gave way to the changing of the tide, it got the stops it needed. Battle missed on a potential game-winner, but his jumper the previous possession was imperative in sending the contest into overtime.
In extra time, Hughes scored right off the tip to give Syracuse the lead. Battle made another jumper, Howard had a steal and lay-up and Paschal Chukwu all but sealed the deal with two free throws and a dunk. When the water became choppy, Syracuse stayed calm and came out with a win in uncharted territory.
A top-ranked Duke team had never lost at home to an unranked opponent in Cameron until Monday night.