The second half would never be easy for Syracuse given Duke’s size and playmaking across multiple ball-handlers. Still, after leading for 19:30, Javin DeLaurier hit two cutting layups while the Orange missed four straight shots in the final 90 seconds. Duke built a 40-36 lead and never gave it up.
That early turnaround put Syracuse behind after halftime, where their offensive output only pulled the Orange within five points, keeping pace behind Duke’s 57.4% shooting. Cassius Stanley’s pair of full-court drives against the press, finishing through fouls, sealed a narrow Blue Devils victory where Syracuse chased and the two sides traded buckets.
Coach K’s squad proved masterful in shutting down a raucous crowd with run-stopping buckets, with Vernon Carey Jr. matching Stanley’s two and-ones in the second half. They also guarded aggressively, ignoring the weight of 29 fouls and forcing Syracuse to the line repeatedly, where they shot 28-for-37 (75.7%).
The first half signaled Syracuse’s improvement, while the second highlighted their continued difficulty closing games and grappling with size.
Sidibe’s four-foul average continued and pressed Guerrier into 20 minutes of playing time, through which he shot 2-for-5 with seven points, seven rebounds and a block before fouling out late. The physicality frustrated him at times, particularly on two plays midway through the first where he got bumped attempting consecutive put-backs. He said there could’ve been 60 fouls in a game where 54 got called.
Out of the eight-minute media timeout, he maintained Syracuse’s offense alongside consecutive makes by Matthew Hurt and DeLaurier. His put-back on Elijah Hughes’ miss broke a 21-21 tie. Then he tagged DeLaurier with his third foul, hitting both free throws, and hit a layup on a feed from Joseph Girard III for an and-one.
That seven-point burst marked his only scoring. His battle with Carey embodied where Boeheim wants him to improve, using his size against bigger players. The success against smaller opponents doesn’t equate improvement, Boeheim said, these games do.
Syracuse didn’t hold that 28-23 lead for long.
Closing stretch before half
Wendell Moore drilled a three, his only make in a return from breaking his right hand, then Carey hit a shot in response to Guerrier’s run. Carey added two more buckets inside, with Alex O’Connell chipping in a mid-range jumper, as Duke pressured Syracuse at 34-34 before halftime. Buddy Boeheim and Marek Dolezaj held the lead until 1:30 remained, and the Orange offense fizzled into an 0-for-4 stretch before half.
O’Connell drilled free throws, DeLaurier scored off him on a cut and added another make from Moore that claimed a lead for Duke before the Orange could escape to halftime. It sparked a 28-11 run that put the Orange in trailing position, while Duke held on to a double-figure lead comfortable enough to allow runs.
Syracuse forced 19 Duke turnovers and played disruptively early. The shift before halftime forced them into that frantic position, chasing the Blue Devils from behind.
Push within 10 to close
Sidibe assisted the Orange’s best second-half run, deflecting a back door pass to Carey, taking a charge on Moore that knocked him out with five fouls and tipping-in a Hughes miss as the Orange pushed back within 79-74 after trailing by 12 two minutes earlier.
Boeheim dished him a pass in the lane to begin the run, but Stanley quickly shut the comeback down. He tagged Sidibe with his fourth foul, finishing through the press with three minutes left. Then Stanley and Tre Jones hit three straight at the line, where Duke made 29-of-33. In a moment, Syracuse went from within five to down 10 again.
Sidibe missed two free throws after, couldn’t put an offensive rebound back while Duke garnered an inside make from Carey and two more Jones free throws. Stanley ended Sidibe’s night with five fouls, and Syracuse’s comeback chance, with another full-court burst that Sidibe couldn’t prevent at the rim.
DeLaurier and Stanley fouled out shortly after Stanley’s closing effort and Moore had moments earlier, but Duke had seven players reach three fouls and only lost one to his fifth in meaningful minutes.
Coach K’s group fouled aggressively, the Orange entered the bonus with over 10 minutes remaining. It didn’t undermine what the Blue Devils did offensively though and even seemed to break up the floor of the game in their favor.
If SU could’ve eliminated DeLaurier’s cutting, or taken Carey out after he picked up his fourth with 3:37 remaining this game could’ve shifted. Instead, K substituted and the physicality spread throughout his players to disrupt the Orange, who shot 38.6% through it.