Zion Williamson’s absence made it all the more clear that the Duke Blue Devils also have the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft on their roster. With Duke playing without the nation’s most touted freshman sensation in Williamson, RJ Barrett—the other big star—torched the Syracuse Orange for 30 points on 14-for-20 shooting in a 75-65 Blue Devil’s victory.
Barrett manned the ball at the top of the arc, cut along the baseline, splashed threes and made two key plays late to secure victory for Duke on the road. The Orange led for the majority of the first half, but a trio of Alex O’Connell three-pointers and Barrett’s play boosted Duke ahead five minutes into the second half.
Throughout, the Dome was deafening. In fact, a whistle called on Javin DeLaurier’s travel barely registered with 35,642 fans screaming in the opening minutes of the nationally-televised contest.
In that opening stanza, Duke struggled to break into its offense. as the Blue Devils began 2-for-6 from the field. Syracuse took advantage of those struggles, and Zion Williamson’s absence on the other end, where Paschal Chukwu caught a pair of offensive rebounds and put one back for two as both teams got settled in.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils’ action worked through Barrett all night. He scored six of Duke’s first 11 points. Barrett largely worked the ball around the perimeter, setting Jones up for a corner two early on, which Frank Howard matched with his second three-pointer.
Hughes hit a running layup in transition, then Brissett forced the fourth Duke turnover, cutting off a Joey Baker pass. Cam Reddish stole the ball back from Buddy Boeheim, and ran open in transition until Hughes met him at the basket with a block that lit the crowd up even more.
Howard and Reddish traded jumpers from mid-range as the two teams worked one possession apart in the opening 10 minutes.
Duke, despite its three-point woes in the first, entered a battle beyond the arc for the next three minutes. O’Connell and Battle traded threes, then Barrett and Hughes, before Barrett hit another cutting layup to reach 11 points. He lobbed a perfect pass to DeLaurier at the rim next time down the court, as the Blue Devils shook off their early struggles to score on four of five possessions. Battle and Syracuse kept pace, staying ahead 22-21.
Marek Dolezaj entered with a six-point burst to maintain the lead. He hit a two inside on a pick-and-roll from Battle. He rushed ahead of the defense to catch a full-court pass from Howard to score two more. Then he finished his run up-faking and blowing by Reddish after Hughes initially crossed Reddish up, then dumped to Dolezaj on the wing.
Syracuse pushed a 34-29 lead into halftime behind a back door dunk by Chukwu from Brissett and two free throws from Howard, attacking Joey Baker in the final seconds.
Duke exited the locker room firing on all cylinders, handing the ball to Jones in the high post to score four of Duke’s first six points in the second. Brissett countered, working past DeLaurier in the post, but left the game briefly with a head contusion five minutes into the second half. He later returned past the halfway point of the half.
Duke shot ahead 48-44 in the meantime on a trio of threes by O’Connell, one a laser pass from Barrett in the right corner to the left wing.
As Duke opened up its perimeter game, Syracuse responded by grabbing five straight offensive rebounds to grind out a Chukwu dunk, a Dolezaj put-back and a floater by Buddy Boeheim, all of which drew the Orange to within one point.
The Blue Devils, however, punched back and went up six. Barrett scored on a hook in the post and O’Connell poured in his fifth three-pointer, giving Duke a 58-52 lead.
Barrett stripped Howard at the top of the zone, setting up an easy dunk for O’Connell—that probably sealed the deal. He then ran ahead of a press by the Orange for an alley-oop slam from Jones. Marques Bolden entered the game late for the Blue Devils with four offensive rebounds and a back-door slam that in fact closed the door on any Orange comeback
Syracuse moves on to No. 8 North Carolina on Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST.