I figured there would be an adjustment period for reintroducing Zion Williamson back into the Duke lineup but I foolishly assumed that the adjustment would be Zion’s for be was the one who actually missed game time. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils it was the rest of the team that seemed to struggle. That struggle came closer than most expected to spoiling one of the best ACC Tournament performances we’ve ever seen. Duke sprinted out to a 17 point lead in the first half but a Syracuse run to end the half brought the Duke lead down to just 6 at the break. The teams battled in the second half as the shooting percentages for both teams reached the 50% mark or better. As the game progressed the Orange became much more comfortable in their offensive flow while the Blue Devils offense seemed to stall at times. A 3 by Buddy Boeheim at the 13:20 mark tied the game at 46 before Duke went on a 21 to 9 run to put the game out of reach.
The good is that Zion is clearly healthy and Coach K and the medical staff made the correct call to take more than just the physical pieces of injury recovery into play. They made sure Zion was both mentally ready and that his conditioning was where it was prior to the injury. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was sick of the conspiracy theorists and hot-take artist that assumed that there was some master scheme to keep Williamson away from the court ((insert eye roll gif here)). Williamson had a game for the ages – scoring 29 points in 36 minutes. Williamson shot a fierce 13 of 13 from the field and pulled down 14 rebounds and had 5 steals. In addition to Zion’s huge game, R.J. Barrett added 23 points and 6 rebounds. Point guard Tre Jones did not have his best game of the year but the freshman guard did give the Blue Devils 15 points and 8 assists. Jones had 3 turnovers in the game some of which were a direct result of a stagnant Duke offense content to pass the ball around the perimeter. It took Coach K calling a few sets to inspire more motion offense for the Devils to get some scoring in the half court. The best offense for the Blue Devils came off of turnovers. Duke scored 27 points off of 17 Syracuse turnovers and Duke held a 15 to 10 advantage in fast break points.
The bad was fairly evident by simply perusing the turnover portion of the stat sheet. Duke turned the ball over 18 times, 10 of which were committed by R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Those 18 turnovers led directly to 20 Syracuse points.
For Syracuse, who was without their leading scorer Tyus Battle, Buddy Boeheim stepped in as he did in their game against Pitt and had himself another great game. Boeheim went 3-5 from beyond the arc and scored 15 points for the Orange. The Orange got a huge game from Frank Howard who poured in 28 points on 11-20 shooting. Oshae Brissett, who’d earlier in the year been criticized for not being aggressive enough offensively added 14 points on 4-9 shooting, he also pulled down 7 rebounds.