DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — No. 5 Duke and Syracuse spent much of Saturday night confounding each other’s outside shooters with their zone defenses.
The key difference: The Blue Devils could pound the ball inside to Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr.
Bagley had 19 points in his return from a sprained knee, Carter added 16 points and 10 rebounds and Duke beat Syracuse 60-44 for its fifth straight win.
“We just try to play off of each other,” Bagley said. “We’ve got this thing rolling now, and they’ve had it rolling for the last four games. We’re all back, and we’re ready to continue to finish out this season.”
Running a zone defense — a development that in the past might have been anathema to man-to-man disciple Mike Krzyzewski — the Blue Devils (24-5, 12-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) forced 17 turnovers and the Orange matched their season-low scoring total, set Feb. 3 in a loss to No. 1 Virginia.
“I don’t think that Coach K should really be allowed to play zone,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim joked.
Duke pulled away down the stretch after leaning hard on the two freshman big men in a game in which the guards on both teams struggled with their shots from the perimeter against their dueling zone defenses. The teams combined to miss their first 23 3-pointers.
“We didn’t let what we couldn’t do on the offensive end affect what we did on the defensive end,” Krzyzewski said.
Bagley, the ACC’s leading scorer (21.2 ppg) and rebounder (11.4 rpg), missed four games after injuring his right knee in a loss at North Carolina on Feb. 8.
Tyus Battle, who ranks third in the league with an average of 20.1 points per game, scored 12 while Frank Howard added 11 and Paschal Chukwu had 12 rebounds. The Orange (18-11, 7-9) lost their third in four games.
Syracuse: The Orange’s best chance to win this one was to gum up the works and hope for an off shooting night by the Blue Devils. For a while, it looked as though it just might work — Syracuse never fell behind by more than a dozen until the final seven minutes. The Orange’s scoring struggles of their own prevented them from earning a resume-building victory and will keep them as the very definition of a bubble team.
Duke: If nothing else, the Blue Devils proved they can scratch out a win. The nation’s third-most productive offense, which entered averaging 87.2 points, was held way below that, and the Blue Devils didn’t make a 3-pointer until Trevon Duval finally connected with about 7½ minutes to play. Of course, it helped to have Bagley back for the first time in two weeks.
The Blue Devils have held four straight opponents under 57 points. This was the second-fewest points allowed this season by Duke, which limited Evansville to 40 in December.
Just how dominant were Duke’s two big men? Bagley and Carter combined to score 14 of the Blue Devils’ 15 points during a 13-minute stretch of the first half. Bagley was the only Duke player to hit a field goal during a span of 9½ minutes. His dunk with about five seconds left in the half put Duke up 27-16 — its largest lead to that point.
Both teams were 0 for 10 from 3-point range at halftime, and Syracuse’s Oshae Brissett snapped the string of 23 straight misses by finally hitting one with about 15:15 to play. Duke missed its first 15 3s and its decades-long streak of consecutive games with a 3 was in jeopardy before Duval made one from above the top of the key. That extended the nation’s fourth-longest streak to 1,013 games.
Syracuse: Visits Boston College on Wednesday night.
Duke: Faces a quick turnaround with a trip to Virginia Tech on Monday night.
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