SYRACUSE, N.Y.—If Cameron Indoor Stadium intimidates visiting opponents with its intimacy, the JMA Wireless Dome brings the thunder with its sheer size.
A three-tiered Orange sea, 31,063 strong, roared along to the game as it was treated to a show. The Blue Devils, apparently unfazed by the environment, added a rare road win to their record, downing Syracuse 77-55. In the end, what mattered was how each team responded to adversity, as both made their fair share of mistakes. Duke responded by zeroing in on the basket, overcoming foul trouble with one of its best shooting performances of the season.
“We just made the right play and shared [the ball], and I don't think it's more complicated than that,“ head coach Jon Scheyer said after the game. “We didn't do anything crazy on offense in terms of Xs and Os-wise. It was more about playing fundamentally sound.”
It all started in the first half, as five Blue Devils combined to hit eight triples on 14 attempts. Yes — the team that came in with a 32.3% 3-point mark shot 57.1% from distance in a half. Freshman forward Dariq Whitehead led the charge, making three of four attempts, while Tyrese Proctor hit two during a pair of the half’s biggest plays. First, the Aussie guard opened the scoring. Then, with just shy of six minutes left in the period, he collected a Dereck Lively II block and raced across the court for a picture-perfect pull-up three.
Still, it was Whitehead that ultimately stole the show. The Blue Devils (19-8, 10-6 in the ACC) cracked through the Orange (16-11, 9-7), famed for their 2-3 zone defense, by way of quick ball movement and simply not missing. Whitehead feasted the most: Often left wide open in the corner, he continued his marksman ways in the second half, ultimately finishing with four threes en route to 14 points, both approaching career-highs.
”Coaches and teammates told me to come out and shoot with confidence, and that's what I did,” Whitehead said.
The Orange began to crawl back in the final moments of the first half, and continued that push into the second. The culprit was the Blue Devils’ disparity at the foul line. In the first five minutes of second-half play, Syracuse went to the line twice for a total of five made free throws. In the end, the Orange amassed 11 points from free throws, while the Blue Devils shot 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. It wasn’t that Duke fouled an inordinate amount, but that Syracuse played an incredibly clean game.
But once again, the Blue Devils were able to respond. Pacing the rebounding race comfortably, finishing with 38 to the Orange’s 25, they were able to get second-chance points that Syracuse could not seem to buy. Over the middle part of the second frame, Duke extended its lead back to 18 points. Though they had cooled off somewhat in the shooting department, the Blue Devils were able to lock down Syracuse on crucial possessions, with the home team struggling to break free of the pressure brought by Duke’s aggressive man defense. And if a few Orange shots did go in, the Blue Devils found a way to score on the other side to nullify them.
“[Duke is] really good defensively, physical, and just took our inside game completely away. We had nothing there,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said.
As Whitehead returned from superhuman form, junior captain Jeremy Roach stepped up to fill the gaps. The Blue Devils, with about as cushy of a lead as a team can get, slowed down the pace of the game, and Roach had ample time and space to load up and shoot. After a slow first half, he finished with a team-leading 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, before head coach Jon Scheyer unloaded the bench to finish the game.
As a result, the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball this season, though never giving up on their home team, went from the boil of the game’s start to a simmer. Not even a game-leading dual effort from Judah Mintz and Joseph Girard III could save Syracuse from the throes of a Duke team that looked built to pick apart a zone.
“That zone gives you so many different looks, kind of stands you up, what makes you kind of lazy, but I feel like we were very poised out there,” Roach said.
The Orange duo combined for 39 points in front of the largest crowd college basketball has to offer, and what will be remembered from Saturday’s game will be the Blue Devils getting their road mojo back. They entered the game 2-6 on the road with real questions as to whether they could pull it out under bright, hostile lights. Those questions may not all be answered, but Duke did its best to try, earning a dominant win in front of a diminishing Orange crowd that left to beat the traffic.
Now, after winning a statement road game, the Blue Devils will return home to welcome Louisville to Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday evening.
“[This game is] probably just the necessary next step for our team. Early, we had some really rough performances on the road,” Scheyer said. “So for us just to put a whole game together and handle those key moments … [We] kept our foot on the gas and learned from our past mistakes and past experiences. And we'll have to continue to do that moving forward.”
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Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.