Syracuse Comes Up Short In Upset Bid Over No. 4 Duke

Feb 14, 2015

Credit @WAERSports

Without the postseason to play for, all Syracuse could do was play spoiler in the third chapter of the ACC's newest rivalry.

The Orange gave a crowd of 35,466 an entertaining show, but it wasn't enough to add another instant classic to the rivalry against Duke.  There weren't any last second shots, last minute ejections or the same down to the wire drama that defined the first two matchups.

Only a good game between two teams playing pretty well.

But even with career highs from Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson, Syracuse (16-9, 7-5 ACC) couldn't upset the No. 4 Blue Devils, who escaped the Carrier Dome with an 80-72 victory, their fifth win in a row.

"We played as well as we've played offensively," Jim Boeheim said.  "Mike had a huge first half and Tyler had his best game here."

Gbinije, a Duke transfer, scored 27 points and gave his former team all it could handle during a back and forth first half.  He scored 19 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers in the span of two minutes midway through the half.  

Gbinije's continued hot hand fueled the Orange to a 29-20 lead, but the Blue Devils chipped away at that lead and got within three at intermission.  Duke didn't let up to start the second half, using a 7-0 run after halftime to take a lead it would never give up during the last 18:32 of play.

The run began when Matt Jones gave a drop pass in the paint to an open Jahlil Okafor, who easily dunked for his first of two field goals to start the half.

Okafor won the matchup against Rakeem Christmas in the paint and helped his bid for the ACC Player of the Year.  He scored 23 points on 10-15 shooting, while limiting Syracuse's center to an inefficient 11 point night.

"He's a tremendous player," Boeheim said.  "He'll be the first overall pick in the draft and he's got the best footwork of any big guy I've seen.  They did a great job at finding him against the zone down there and he's a great finisher around the basket."

Christmas went 5-17 and missed shots around the rim that have been routine for him this year.  It would have been just his third game of the season without scoring in double figures, if it wasn't for a pair of dunks in the final minute when the game was out of reach for Syracuse.

With Christmas held in check, the Blue Devils were able to hone in on their 3-point defense in the second half.  Syracuse's outside shooting carried the team in the first half, but killed it in the second.  The Orange only went 1-11 from 3 in the latter half and got shut out in that department until Trevor Cooney's desperation shot with 26 seconds left.

"They're a good defensive team and they came out and pressured us," Cooney said. "And we didn't make the plays that we needed to make to really execute and score."

The Blue Devils sealed the game by doing what Syracuse couldn't: make free throws. Even with another historic on-campus crowd, the Orange fell short and lost for the fourth time in six games.

"Every game you play in front of 35,000 people has a pretty good feel," Boeheim said.  "But I think every game you play, you're going to play as hard as you can and try to do what you can and that's what we've been doing all year and that's what we'll keep doing."