Charlotte, N.C. — After winning its first ACC Tournament game against Pittsburgh, the Syracuse Orange returned to action to square off with the Duke Blue Devils for the third time this season. The Orange trailed by as many as 17 in the first half, fought back to tie the game in the second but in the end Zion Williamson proved too much to handle as the Blue Devils moved past the Orange 84-72.
Williamson returned from hiatus for the first time since his blown shoe and sprained knee fiasco against North Carolina and it didn’t take long before he took the game by storm. A quick bucket inside and raucous jam on a runout gave Duke some early momentum just minutes into the contest.
On the other end Syracuse struggled to attack Duke’s ball pressure and the Blue Devils forced turnovers which led to fast break opportunities. None were greater than a 50/50 ball won by Duke at mid-court which led to an RJ Barrett lob to Zion at the rim that had the Spectrum Center at its loudest all night.
Syracuse struggled throughout much of the first half to attack Duke’s pressure. But before the intermission the Orange had a saving grace in Frank Howard who willed Syracuse as he authored his own 10-2 run.
Trailing by a score of 32-15, Howard connected on a series that included a floater that beat the shot clock, a three from the wing, a pull up two just inside the arc and another three that had Syracuse back to within single digits. A Buddy Boeheim triple right after capped a 13-2 Syracuse run that had Syracuse trailing 34-28 at the intermission.
After Paschal Chukwu picked up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half, Marek Dolezaj checked in and led an inspired effort to keep Syracuse in striking distance. He finished inside and drew a charge on the opposite end which shifted momentum in favor of the Orange.
After a jumper and lay-up from Howard, back-to-back 3s from Buddy Boeheim knotted the game at 46 all. Duke regained momentum though through a concerted effort to get to the glass. Coupled with efforts from its two top prospects in Barrett and Williamson, Duke was able to regain the lead and was never seriously threatened.
Williamson didn’t miss from the field. He made one shot from deep and finished his night shooting 13-13 from the field overall. A pair of open floor dunks by Barrett were the icing on the cake. In the end, Duke out-rebounded Syracuse 38-27, Williamson and Barrett combined to score 52 points and the Orange couldn’t get over the hump.
Syracuse now turns its attention toward the NCAA Tournament.
Howard finished with a career-high 28 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals yet 6 turnovers. Buddy Boeheim had 15 points while Oshae Brissett scored 14 and grabbed 7 boards.
Syracuse shot 25-52 (48.1%) from the floor and 9-21 (42.9%) from distance.
Syracuse will now sit things out until Selection Sunday. It’s post-season fate will be determined then. Keep it locked with us until then and throughout the remainder of the season.