BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Beating a team three times in one season is tough.
But when its superstar guard who led the conference in regular-season scoring isn’t playing, you would think that makes it easier. Quite the opposite was true.
No.1-seed Duke narrowly escaped a colossal upset Thursday against a Buddy Boeheim-less No. 9-seed Syracuse at Barclays Center, edging the Orange 88-79. The Blue Devils had won both of these teams’ earlier two matchups by at least 20 points, but Syracuse’s trio of Joseph Girard, Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider made sure that wouldn’t be the case again.
"We got the game we expected. [Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has] got a program, for almost five decades. They have a lot of pride," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "If you gave him five possessions during the year they'd be an NCAA tournament team right now."
With 10 minutes left in the contest, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach drained a pivotal three to make it 67-63 Duke. Then Syracuse forward Jimmy Boeheim did the same for his squad. So Roach did it again at the 8:03 mark to make it 72-67 Duke.
From then on it was a barrage of 3-pointers from both sides as the Syracuse and Duke fans in attendance buckled in for a thrilling final four minutes.
Roach turned the ball over out of the Duke timeout at 4:09, and Jimmy Boeheim tipped the ball in to make it 79-78 Syracuse. Wendell Moore Jr. continued his dominant night to make two free throws and give Duke the lead. Freshman forward Paolo Banchero tossed in a huge bucket to give Duke a three-point lead, but it was finally over after Roach drained a wing three to send the Duke faithful into a frenzy and punch Duke’s ticket to the next round.
"That look I saw in everybody's eyes just looked like 'We're not losing this game,'" Moore said.
Moore finished the afternoon with 26 points, while Roach tossed in 19 of his own to form a dynamic duo that lifted the Blue Devils up when they needed it.
"Just staying confident out there," Roach said of his recent scoring surge. "The coaches and all the players have the biggest confidence in me. That's really just the biggest thing is staying confident and staying consistent."
The Orange picked up the second half right where they left off. Cole Swider stroked a three from the top of the key and Girard followed that up with a jumper of his own.
Williams used his physicality down low to score on center Bourama Sidibe for Duke’s first basket of the half and Moore hit a corner three in front of his own bench to pull Duke within four. They played some two-man offense for a Williams dunk to quiet the crowd after a Jimmy Boeheim three, but the Orange were relentless.
"I think it was pretty important. We had to learn from that game but at the same time we had to move on," big man Mark Williams said of taking lessons from the last North Carolina game. "We can't harp on that game too much cause then you're playing mind games with yourself thinking what if this happens or that happens. So you just have to go out there and play the game and be confident. Go out there and win the game, and that's what we did."
Everything changed after the under-16 media timeout. Banchero hauled in an offensive rebound that led to a Williams layup and Keels ran the floor for a transition layup to cut Syracuse’s lead to two.
Moore tied the game up immediately out of the media timeout, and with 13:29 remaining, not a single person in the arena had a clue of who would come out on top. The Charlotte native didn’t wait long to give Duke its first lead of the second half, drawing a foul that was ruled a Flagrant I and knocking down both free throws.
Syracuse came out to start the game determined to make Duke work for each bucket that it got, but the Blue Devils’ sharpshooting was too much for the Orange zone early on. Moore and Keels each hit two 3-pointers before the opening media timeout and stymied any shred of early momentum Syracuse had.
The Orange gave Duke plenty of space from beyond the arc, and the Blue Devils weren’t afraid to fire away with 10 attempts from three in the first six minutes of the game.
Duke started to pull away at the 12:28 mark when Banchero intercepted a Syracuse pass and effortlessly went coast-to-coast. Roach added in a trey for his first points of the afternoon on the next Blue Devil possession, and Duke had a 24-11 lead.
"The guy who really turned it around for us was Jeremy [Roach]," Krzyzewski said. "Jeremy had a sensational game."
But despite the hot Duke start, Girard almost single-handedly willed the Orange back into the game. He drew fouls on 3-point shots on back-to-back possessions and made five of his six free throws to cut Duke’s lead down to one. Girard finished the first half with 18 points, scoring 10 of them in a row as Syracuse’s lone scorer in the middle of the first half.
Then Jimmy Boeheim said hello with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Syracuse a 31-30 lead. Symir Torrence came through with a layup immediately after and with 6:25 to go in the first half, Duke found itself in a three-point deficit.
The 3-point shooting that pushed the Blue Devils out to that 13-point lead went cold later in the half. Duke finished the half 6-of-22 from deep and had a stretch of over 11 minutes to end the first half, where it missed nine 3-point attempts and did not record a make.
After the game, Krzyzewski told the media that the team got hit with some sort of stomach bug or food poisoning in the days leading up to this game, and that AJ Griffin, associate head coach Chris Carrawell and himself were all throwing up.
Duke will be back at Barclays Center to play No. 4-seed Miami Thursday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.