The phantom energy of the Cameron Crazy ghosts from Duke’s exhilarating nail-biter victory against Virginia just two days ago never seemed to disappear.
Duke slammed hard on the gas pedal from the opening tip on both sides of the floor, putting Syracuse away en route to an 85-71 win and four-game win streak.
“To be able to play the way we did tonight was outstanding,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “You play four games in 10 days and that’s tough for any team. To have four wins is great.”
The Blue Devils' (11-8, 9-6 in the ACC) season-long improvement was put on full display against the Orange from the first possession, as breakout center Mark Williams finished a standing alley-oop from DJ Steward to immediately poke a hole through Syracuse’s infamous 2-3 zone. Williams earned his first career double-double, finishing with a career-high 18 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, making a huge impact on both ends of the floor.
“These last four wins that we had all started on the defensive end and that’s what got our offense going,” Jeremy Roach said. “Mark Williams was huge for us...just amazing. He was on the glass all night just battling his ass off, so I appreciate him."
The Blue Devils’ perimeter defenders were able to play aggressive and take risks against Syracuse’s best 3-point shooters, knowing that Williams would be there to clean up any mistakes. The Duke defense was as connected and active as it has been all season, as the Blue Devils turned Syracuse (13-7, 7-6) over 11 times in the contest. Leading the charge was none other than Jordan Goldwire, who came up with two steals overall.
Duke’s contagious hot hand from deep was what really busted down the doors of the impending blowout. If a team fails to hit its 3-pointers against Syracuse’s zone defense, it makes it very difficult to get into any kind of offensive rhythm. Seasoned sophomore Wendell Moore Jr. took it upon himself to make sure that wouldn’t be the case for Duke, pulling up from deep with confidence for the Blue Devils’ first 3-pointer of the night just over a minute in. On Duke’s next two possessions, freshman guards Roach and Steward joined in on the fun, hitting shots of their own from downtown.
“We knew our time was going to come,” Roach said. “We’re getting connected at the end of the season at the right time, so I’m excited.”
The backcourt duo of Steward and Roach was lethal from deep in the first half, going 3-for-6 and 4-for-4, respectively. This one-two punch has finally found its stride on the offensive side of the ball, and the methodology behind their improvement seems simple: just let it fly. Roach and Steward are quality shooters, and much to the dismay of Syracuse, the freshman duo is now well aware of that fact.
Duke’s current win streak would not be possible without the heroics of Matthew Hurt, and he made sure to join the party against the Orange, scoring 15 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Hurt also played a huge role in dismantling Syracuse’s zone, continually getting the ball in the middle of the floor and in the corners, working his faceup magic time and time again.
It really did feel like the Cameron Crazies were alive and well Monday night. Syracuse ranked sixth in the nation in free throw percentage heading into the game and uncharacteristically went 7-of-12 from the charity stripe. Almost every 50-50 ball ended up in the hands of a Blue Devil. And in general, any momentum Syracuse tried to secure via random scoring runs and a few highlight plays was eventually matched by Duke, which refused to let up.
The Blue Devils have not had an ideal season by any means, but at this time last week, their NCAA tournament chances were nonexistent. But thanks to immense improvement on both sides of the ball as of late, there is new life in this team. It’s hard to predict what the tournament committee will decide when it comes down to Selection Sunday, but if the Blue Devils keep rolling as they have these past couple games, it will be hard for the committee to deny them.
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Duke will try to feed off its monster win when it welcomes Louisville to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday.