There was snow outside and rain inside Cameron Indoor Stadium.
On a frigid Durham Saturday, Duke was red hot from beyond the arc against Syracuse on its way to a 79-59 victory in front of a crowd of Cameron Crazies who were not deterred in the slightest by the 30-degree temperature at tipoff. The Blue Devils knocked down 14 3-pointers, their highest mark in ACC play, and pounded the low block with feeds to Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams all afternoon. The quartet of Wendell Moore Jr., Willliams, Banchero and AJ Griffin led Duke in scoring, each putting up at least 15 points in one of Duke’s most balanced scoring displays of the year.
Griffin made it clear early on that he would be having a signature performance Saturday afternoon. The freshman opened up Duke’s scoring with a wing three to send Cameron into a frenzy and quickly followed that up with another triple immediately after.
“Every guy on our team has complete confidence in [Griffin] when they pass it to him,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “But I thought his defense was the best he’s been so he keeps coming on, that’s good for us.”
Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach found Williams down low on the next possession and the big man muscled his way to the rim to finish the contested layup. A Banchero free throw and a Williams fast-break layup later, and the Blue Devils (15-3, 5-2 in the ACC) were out to an 11-2 lead at the under-16 media timeout.
“I’m proud of him because he didn’t shoot well, but it didn’t affect his defense and his passing, and that’s the sign of a really good player,” Krzyzewski said of Roach, who finished with nine assists.
Griffin’s afternoon was another display of the efficiency he has possessed all season. Finishing the game 5-of-10 from the field with five 3-pointers, he was a central reason why the sixth-ranked Blue Devils were able to take a 14-point lead into the half. And for part of the opening 20 minutes, it wasn’t obvious that the final score was going to be this lopsided.
The Orange (9-10, 3-5) came with some fire out of that media timeout, scoring four consecutive points before senior Joey Baker reignited the Duke faithful with a wing three of his own. A 3:34 Duke scoring drought later, and Syracuse found itself only down 16-15 after a Jimmy Boeheim 3-pointer and Jesse Edwards dunk.
Duke turned to its best option to end the dry spell, and a couple Banchero jab steps later and the Blue Devils had found the bottom of the net again. Williams powered through Edwards on the next possession for the and-one, and it looked as if the two interior buckets snapped Duke out of its then 3-for-10 mark from 3-point range.
“That’s always our emphasis, try to get the ball to Paolo and Mark. Shots weren’t falling so what’s the easier way to score than to give the ball to Paolo and let him work out in the middle,” Roach said. “It’s probably one of the most high-percentage shots we're going to get.”
Duke never relinquished its halftime lead and after a cold shooting start from three for the team to start the second half, Roach knocked down a 3-pointer at the 15:57 mark and followed it up with a three-quarter-court pass to an open Mark Williams for the assist.
Minutes later, Baker missed a shot but before any other player on the floor could react, Moore skied up for the one-handed putback slam to put the exclamation mark on an afternoon that was all Duke blue. Baker joined in on the 3-point fun too, knocking down three to match his season-high.
Even with Baker’s hits from downtown, the crowd by far loved his transition dunk with just over a minute remaining the most.
Syracuse presented a different challenge with its 2-3 zone defense, but the Blue Devils looked relatively unfazed. Banchero and Moore flashed to the middle of the key all afternoon to give the ball-handler an inside option, and Duke converted on enough of its perimeter shots to make the Syracuse defenders respect it.
In all the action of the first half, neither Jimmy nor Buddy Boeheim recorded a point in the opening 10 minutes. The brother duo are Syracuse’s top-two scorers and only ended up with 19 combined points all afternoon, though credit has to be given to Moore and the Duke defense who forced each of them to take difficult shots.
“This is definitely the most complete performance just on both sides. We played good offense, good defense,” Moore said. “We have to cherish these moments, they don’t come often.”
With all the typical basketball play of the afternoon, one strange play in particular had the Cameron Crazies chirping at the referees especially loud. After a Baker steal that was outleted to Moore, Moore rifled a pass up the sideline to an open Bates Jones in the corner. But the pass never got there, bouncing off of referee Ted Valentine’s head and flying out of bounds to make it Syracuse’s ball.
Duke gets to play host again Tuesday when Clemson comes to town for a 7 p.m. tipoff.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.