The Blue Devils entered the Carrier Dome looking to stay on pace with the Tar Heels and the Cavaliers in the 3 way tie for first place. Duke would be without their freshmen phenom Zion Williamson in their Saturday night game against the Syracuse Orange. The normal starting lineup was shuffled and added were Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell. The Orange and the Blue Devils battled for most of the first half with the Orange leading the entire way but never able to pull away from the Blue Devils. At the 13:30 mark of the first half Duke called for their first subs of the game – no one was expecting to see formerly redshirting freshmen Joey Baker enter the game long with seldom used big man Antonio Vrankovic. Baker grabbed 2 rebounds in 5 minutes of game action; his status going forward will be an interesting story line. The first half was spent looking for a lineup that could work against the Syracuse defense and pair with R.J. Barrett who singlehandedly kept Duke afloat in the first half.
Barrett was 8-11 for 17 points in the first half, the rest of the Blue Devils scored 12. The Syracuse zone did give the blue devils trouble in that first half, they struggled to find any rhythm and shot just 20% from beyond the arc and 40% overall in the first half. Meanwhile Syracuse wasn’t a whole lot better shooting 33% from 3 and 37.7% from the floor. Where the orange benefited was from out-rebounding the Blue Devils 24-17 in the first half which led to a 10 to 6 advantage in second chance points. The Orange led the Blue Devils 34 to 29 at the break.
Duke came out with a bit of a different look in the second half, the Blue Devils flashed Tre jones into the middle of the zone, even though Barrett had been eating up the Syracuse defense. It was a look that gave Duke 4 quick points off of their first 2 possessions and it opened up some open looks from beyond the arc for the duke shooters. Alex O’Connell took full advantage. O’Connell who only managed to score 3 in the first half, was able to go 5-7 from the floor and 4-6 from 3 point range in the second half for a game total and a career-high 20 points on a career-best 5-of-8 from three-point range.
The Blue Devils were much more efficient against the Orange zone in the second half but moreover the Devils shored up some of their defensive mistakes against the Syracuse offense. Syracuse shot only 9% from beyond the arc in the second half going 1 for 11 while Duke as a team shot 42.9%. Huge for Duke in that second half was Marques Bolden. Bolden, in the waning minutes of the second half pulled down 4 key offensive rebounds. Bolden pulled down 8 rebounds in just 10 minutes of action and scored 4 points. Bolden hit 2 free throws in the final minutes to help secure a 75-65 victory for the Blue Devils.
Offensively, freshman RJ Barrett recorded his second consecutive 30-point game, and sixth this season (one shy of tying the ACC freshman record held by Duke’s Marvin Bagley III) with 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting. Barrett has scored 20+ points in 20 games this season, setting an ACC freshman record.