In many ways, the young men of the Duke men’s basketball team are just ordinary college students. They attend class, enjoy the fare at Duke’s West Union and even play video games like Fortnite during COVID lockdowns. (Head coach Mike Krzyzewski still calls it “Fourth Night,” but cut him some slack, he’s 74 years old.)
I think it is a fair assumption that no other group of Duke students could do what the Blue Devils did Saturday afternoon, though. No. 6 Duke buried Syracuse under a pile of 3-pointers so high the small confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium could barely contain them.
Maybe that’s a little exaggerated. But after a tough overtime loss at Florida State, a 20-point romp at home in front of the Cameron Crazies gave Duke fans a warm feeling on their trek back home through the snow.
“We have to cherish these moments,” junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. said. “They don’t come often.”
In the past, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim’s infamous 2-3 zone has stymied many Duke teams. After the Blue Devils lost to unranked Florida State, Syracuse saw a vulnerability even though the Orange had major struggles this season.
Duke quickly set aside any doubts of who would go home the winner, though. The Blue Devils unleashed a flurry of 3-pointers that put the game out of reach of the Orange within the opening minutes. Duke’s 14 baskets from 3-point range were the most in ACC play this season, and a mark that has only been reached one other time since the start of the 2018-19 (Zion) season.
Freshman forward AJ Griffin began the game by intercepting a pass and drilling a wing 3-pointer in transition. On the next possession, he knocked down another trey from the exact same spot, setting the tone for a day of long-range dominance.
“AJ keeps it really simple,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a really easy guy to play with. He spaces the floor and plays defense. Every guy on the team has complete confidence in him.”
Later in the half, Griffin nailed another pair of treys, this time from the corner. He finished the game with 15 points—all of them coming from beyond the arc. Griffin played with remarkable efficiency, shooting 5-for-9 from downtown in just his fourth game as a starter.
“[Griffin] has just been coming along since being put into the starting lineup,” freshman forward Paolo Banchero said. “He’s a great player, so it’s not like we’re surprised.”
Griffin’s five long-range makes were the most by any individual Blue Devil since Matthew Hurt’s performance against Virginia nearly one year ago.
Griffin was also just one of four Duke players to score exactly 15 points against Syracuse, alongside Banchero, Moore and center Mark Williams. It was a balanced scoring load for the Blue Devils, an unusual proposition since star guard Trevor Keels was out with an injury.
“Anybody on our team can play on any given day,” Banchero said.
Besides the perimeter shooting, the Blue Devils also excelled on the defensive end. It was no banner day for Buddy and Jimmy Boeheim, the sons of Jim Boeheim and Syracuse royalty. Duke held Syracuse’s top scorer, Buddy Boeheim, to just seven points on 2-of-15 shooting.
His brother Jimmy struggled too and was held scoreless in the first 10 minutes of play. He shot just 4-for-11 from the field and 2-for-6 from the free throw line. Neither Boeheim brother could find open shots with much success thanks to Duke’s hounding defense.
“It all starts with our intensity and defensive pressure,” Moore said. “If we come out and impose our own on the defensive end, the offense will come.”
Syracuse could not match the Blue Devils’ hot hand from the perimeter. The Orange shot just 17% from 3-point range, while Duke hummed along at the 38% mark. Even that high number doesn’t really tell the full story, since many of Duke’s misses came during garbage time.
“Shoot our shots. That’s one of the things Coach says,” said Banchero. “We worked a lot on shooting during practice, so it would be wrong to not take those shots.”
Saturday’s 20-point win margin was a steep rebound from the Florida State loss. Krzyzewski says the team still is not up to full speed since the COVID pause after the December game against Virginia Tech. The Florida State loss means Duke is sure to take a fall in the upcoming AP Poll. Coach K isn’t too worried about that—he focused on his team’s achievements Saturday.
“It’s been a tough time since Christmas, with Trevor’s injuries,” Krzyzewski said. “These kids are hanging in there. Today they played really well, especially on the defensive end.”
Syracuse was as close to a meatball as Duke could find in an eternally turbulent ACC schedule. But after getting back in the win column in such a dominant fashion, it seems time for a brief break—maybe stay inside and play “Fourth Night.” It’s too darn cold to go outside, anyway.
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