Despite drama surrounding each of them, both of Duke’s freshmen big men were in the lineup on Saturday, and it was business as usual for the Blue Devils in a 60-44 win over Syracuse.
Marvin Bagley III, who missed four straight games with a knee injury, returned to the court. He didn’t start, but the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder was the first sub off the bench and led all scorers with 19 points.
“That was the reason that I sat out a lot of the games – to make sure that I was ready to come back and play a lot like that,” he said. “I felt pretty good. I felt 100 percent, and I felt myself. That was the reason I took my time, because I didn’t want to come back too early and have to worry about it and keep coming out.”
His teammate in the post, freshman Wendell Carter Jr. had a double-double, with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Carter’s status was put into question on Friday, when Yahoo! reported that his name was included in an expense report from an agent involved in the FBI investigation of the sport.
“I don’t really know what happened, honestly,” Carter said. “I knew it was just someone trying to look for something. It wasn’t really a distraction, because I know I didn’t do anything, and I know my family didn’t do anything. So I was fine. It was pretty nerve-wracking, but I just took it day by day.”
Carter’s parents met with a runner for the agent, coach Mike Krzyzewski explained after the game, but both left before eating. The Carters met with Duke’s compliance staff and were cleared of any wrongdoing.
“I applaud the NCAA for working so swiftly, because there’s so many things happening, and it kind of blew up,” Krzyzewski said. “And it’s too bad that every item that was mentioned had the same magnitude, at least publically, and there was a little bit of rush to judgment in some of these things. And that’s too bad, that’s the world we live in, but I applaud our compliance, Duke, our university counsel, and the NCAA for working together and we felt very confident in using him tonight because there wasn’t any violation.”
The performance by Carter and Bagley inside helped Duke overcome a poor shooting night. The Blue Devils hit just 41.5 percent against Syracuse’s zone and was 2-for-18 from three-point range. Duke missed its first 15 three-pointers and appeared in jeopardy of getting shut out from long distance for the first time since Dec. 30, 1989—1013 games ago.
The leaks from the FBI investigation, however, overshadowed the on-court action.
“It’s a horrible time for the game,” Krzyzewski said. “The game has begged—it has been on its knees begging for change, for years. Sometimes unless something horrible happens, you just don’t change. We need to change.”.