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Beyond the arc: Zion-less Duke men’s basketball squad handles Syracuse on the road

<p>Duke exacted revenge on Syracuse despite Zion Williamson's absence.</p>

Duke exacted revenge on Syracuse despite Zion Williamson's absence.

Duke came into Saturday not having lost on a Saturday nor in their lucky black uniforms. Both streaks stood intact as the shorthanded Blue Devils pulled away late to beat Syracuse 75-65. The Blue Zone takes a look at three key takeaways and stats from the game and previews what’s to come:

Three key takeaways:

1. Alex O’Connell can't miss

Needing a scoring burst from a role player with Zion Williamson nursing his sprained knee, O’Connell stepped up in a big way in his second career start, tallying 20 points off of five 3-pointers. The sophomore also contributed the biggest play of the game, knocking down a four-point play from the corner with Syracuse holding a two-point advantage, giving the Blue Devils the lead for good.

2. Joey Baker burns his redshirt

Being the fifth and often overlooked member of the heralded Duke freshman class, Baker was expected to spend the year bulking up and getting good practice against future NBA lottery picks while he used his redshirt. With the Blue Devils beginning the game 1-for-7 from deep, Mike Krzyzewski decided to burn the North Carolina native’s extra year of eligibility to add some much needed sharpshooting skills and go all in for his sixth national title. Baker would miss his only field goal attempt, but notched two rebounds in five minutes of action.

3. Defense takes a stand

The last time these two faced off back in January, the Blue Devils struggled to shoot, but it was nowhere near how much they got torched on the defensive end after Tre Jones went down early in that matchup. Tyus Battle was limited to just 16 points on Saturday night, half as many as he scored in Cameron. The Orange were also held to 20 points less on Saturday compared to the January meeting.

Three key stats:

1. 30 points

R.J. Barrett again showed off an impressive game, hitting the 30-point mark to go along with his seven assists. The scoring output gave him his 20th 20-point game of the season and moved him within one of Duke product Marvin Bagley III’sACC freshman record for 30-point games, with seven.

2. 6-of-14 from three in the 2nd half

Similar to the earlier game in Durham, Duke struggled from 3-point range in the first half, making just three from deep on just 20 percent shooting. The tide of the game changed, however, when the Blue Devils started to knock down those jumpers in the second period, knocking down better than 42 percent of these looks, led by four from O’Connell.

3. 35,642 people

For the third consecutive meeting at the Carrier Dome, Duke’s trip to Syracuse set an all-time record for largest attendance for an on-campus basketball game in NCAA history, eclipsing the mark of 34,446 set in 2015.

Looking Forward

The Blue Devils will wrap up the toughest six-game stretch in America with a trip to Blacksburg, Va., to take on No. 20 Virginia Tech next Tuesday. Then, it’s two tune up games in Cameron Indoor against Miami and Wake Forest, opportunities for Krzyzewski to ease Williamson back into the rotation before their rematch with No. 8 North Carolina.

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