Well, that was unpleasant. Nothing could go right for the Syracuse Orange on the road at Duke on Saturday night, with Jim Boeheim’s club putting forth one of the most difficult to watch offensive performance in ages, falling 73-54. The Orange turned it over early and often, and when they weren’t turning the ball over they were missing shots. Not surprisingly, when you can’t put any sort of offensive rhythm together against a team like Duke, it’s not going to end well.
It didn’t help that while Syracuse was struggling to score, and even hang onto the ball at times, Duke was executing at a much higher level than the Orange. Now, that’s obviously to be expected, since we’re talking about the No. 4-ranked team in the country, and no matter what you think of Mike Krzyzewski, there is simply no denying that his team’s always execute on offense.
And even when the Blue Devils were failing to hit shots early, they were dominating the offensive glass, getting second chance opportunities on what felt like every possession. The Blue Devils finished with 16 offensive rebounds, and by contrast, Syracuse only had 18 defensive rebounds. In other words, every time Duke put up a shot, there was roughly a 50% chance that they’d collect their own miss. That is never going to end well.
The Orange also had seemingly no answer for Justise Winslow, who scored both at the rim and from the perimeter on his way to a career-high 23 points, hitting 10-of-17 overall and 3-of-5 from deep. He also added nine boards, three blocks, and two steals, basically locking in his status as a probable lottery selection in this year’s NBA Draft. Winslow and Jahlil Okafor were virtually unstoppable on the offensive glass, with Okafor pulling down seven boards at that end of the floor while Winslow grabbed three more.
Okafor didn’t even have his best game on offense, but he didn’t need to. He wasn’t a particular focal point for Duke, but he still finished with 13 points and 14 rebounds, once again winning the head to head matchup with Rakeem Christmas. Christmas, on the other hand, had a difficult time once again. In the first half, he barely got any looks, as Duke threw double teams at him every time he caught the ball, and even when he did catch the ball he was rarely in any position to even look to score. Christmas finally started to get some looks in the second half, and finished with 11 points on just 3-of-6 shooting, adding five rebounds before fouling out with nearly 10 minutes remaining.
Syracuse needed to play its A-game in order to have a chance to beat Duke, and that just did not happen at either end of the floor, particularly once Duke started to heat up from long range. The Orange also struggled in transition going both ways, getting beaten down the floor for easy baskets while, at the other end, either missing layups or simply fumbling the ball away when they got seemingly sure-thing breakaway baskets. When you play a team like Duke, you simply cannot afford to fail to convert on those opportunities, especially when you’re struggling so mightily to shoot the basketball.
And boy, that might be an understatement for how the Orange looked on the offensive end of the floor. Syracuse finished the game hitting 30.6% from the field, but even that’s misleading since the team hit a few shots late. For most of the game, the field goal percentage hovered in the mid-to-high 20’s, while Duke finished the game shooting 48.3% from the field and, after a slow start from the perimeter, 34.8% from long distance.
Amazingly, the Orange actually had four players finish in double figures, but two of those final tallies are awfully deceptive. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije were virtually invisible for much of the game, with Cooney’s shot once again failing him, while Gbinije was clearly pressing in his return to Cameron Indoor Stadium. Gbinije finished with 12 points, but hit just 5-of-20 shots and was even missing layups. Cooney, meanwhile, scored 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting, and the duo combined to hit just 3-of-17 from long range, and each player turned it over three times.
The lone bright spot for Syracuse was Tyler Roberson, who continues to perform well against Duke. Roberson hit 5-of-9 shots, including finally knocking down a midrange jumper, to finish with team-highs of 16 points and nine rebounds, and even hit 6-of-7 free throws. Roberson still has some glaring weaknesses, and his hands proved to be a big trouble spot tonight. Too often tonight he either fumbled the ball on offense, or failed to secure rebounds because he just could not hang onto the ball.
Meanwhile, this was a game in which it felt like every loose ball and carom found its way into the hands of a Duke player, which not only led to second chance opportunities but also some easy transition baskets. In effect, everything that could have gone wrong for Syracuse basically did, leading to one of the most frustrating games of the season for the Orange. It may not seem like it if you’re looking solely at the final score, but don’t let the fact that Syracuse only lost by 19 fool you. This game could have easy been a 35 point blowout had Coach K not taken his foot off the gas pedal right around the time Christmas picked up his fifth foul.
Frankly, it was probably too much to expect this Syracuse team to walk into Cameron Indoor and topple a vastly superior Duke team. It just wasn’t a realistic proposition. But based on the way the Orange have played recently, you were completely justified in hoping that they would be able to keep the game close. Instead, the mistakes just kept piling up for Syracuse, and beginning right around midway through the first half, the outcome was never truly in doubt. Duke controlled this one more or less for the duration.
Syracuse returns home for Senior Night, and at 18-11 overall and 9-7 in conference play they’ll host No. 2-ranked Virginia on Monday night. The frightening thing to consider is that Syracuse struggled so mightily on offense against a Duke team that’s ranked just 110th in the country in scoring defense. What’s going to happen on Monday, when they take on the team that heads into that matchup with the No. 1-ranked scoring defense in the nation in Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers?
It’s a scary prospect, but hopefully the Orange have gotten their worst offensive performance out of their system and will be ready to execute at least moderately better back in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome.