SYRACUSE (AP) — With star Zion Williamson nursing his injured knee on the bench, Duke’s other star and an unlikely hero got the top-ranked Blue Devils back on the winning track.
Freshman forward RJ Barrett, who had a triple-double and double-double in Duke’s previous two games, scored 30 points to help fill the void and Alex O’Connell had a career-high 20 in his first start of the season to lead Duke to a 75-65 against Syracuse before 35,642 at Carrier Dome — the largest ever for a college basketball game at an on-campus arena.
Things got off to an emotional start, with Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim making his first public appearance since being involved in a fatal traffic accident three nights earlier. The 74-year-old Hall of Fame coach shared an embrace with his friend and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the sideline before taking his usual spot on the Orange bench.
Once the game started, it seemed like just another tilt featuring the two winningest coaches in NCAA Division I history, except for the massive crowd that made the dome’s walls shake every time the Orange scored. The Blue Devils (24-3, 12-2) improved to 7-0 on the road in the ACC.
The win provided Duke with a measure of revenge for a loss to Syracuse earlier this season.
In the first game between the teams, the Orange (18-9, 9-5) pulled off the upset, 95-91 at Cameron Indoor Stadium, as Tyus Battle scored a season-high 32 points and Syracuse used its 2-3 zone defense to rattle Duke in overtime.
Swingman Cameron Reddish was out with an illness and point guard Tre Jones suffered a shoulder injury roughly 5 1/2 minutes in to put Duke down two starters in that one. It was a completely different team, just like it was on Saturday without injured freshman star Zion Williamson, who had a season-high 35 points in that first game.
Tyus Battle led Syracuse with 16 points on 4-of-17 shooting, Elijah Hughes had 12, and Marek Dolezaj and Frank Howard had 10 apiece as the Orange hit only 1 of 11 3-pointers in the decisive second half.
“Our offense is really the difference,” Boeheim said. “They’re going to score points. They’re a tremendous offensive team. If you can hold them in the 70s, that’s a pretty good effort, but offensively we didn’t get the movement we need to and we didn’t make shots when we got them.”
For freshman Orange guard Buddy Boeheim, the coach’s youngest son, the whole night was a moment that forever will be etched in his mind.”When he first came out, it was just a great moment for the community, a great moment for him,” Buddy said. “It was just great having him there. You obviously want to win, but it’s more than basketball sometimes.”
The game set a record for an on-campus basketball game, eclipsing the mark of 34,446, twice against Duke.
SHOW OF SUPPORT
Several former Orange stars attended the game, including Sherman Douglas, Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Todd Burgan and Billy Owens. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, wearing a No. 4 Syracuse jersey, also attended and sat just to the right of the Syracuse bench.
Duke: Williamson is recovering from a sprained knee. Duke was crushed at home, 88-72, on Wednesday night by No. 8 North Carolina after Williamson was hurt on the game’s first possession.
Syracuse: Just being with the players and coaching them will help Boeheim cope with the tragic accident as the season winds down.