Get the latest Syracuse news delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe to our sports newsletter here.
BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Down three with just 1:38 left in the game, Syracuse was inbounding from under Duke’s basket. The Orange threw the ball out to Jimmy Boeheim at the top of the arc, and already with 28 points and 6 made 3s, he could’ve taken a 3-pointer. But he decided not to.
Jimmy drove into the paint and went for a floater, but Mark Williams rose up and swatted the shot back, allowing Paolo Banchero to scoop up the ball. SU’s defense held strong for most of the shot clock, but eventually, Wendell Moore Jr. drove hard into the paint, and when it looked like he might go for a layup, Moore kicked to an open Jeremy Roach on the wing to knock down a 3.
Roach’s 3 came in the middle of what would be a 10-0 game-sealing run by Duke to advance to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament semifinals, ending any hope of another Syracuse miracle March run.
“Coming in today, we tried — which we haven’t used in 24, 25 years — the triangle and two, which worked for a while,” head coach Jim Boeheim said. “(Duke’s) going to eventually get it. But I thought it gave us a little bit of an edge.”
Syracuse (16-17, 9-11 Atlantic Coast) came close to upsetting Duke (27-5, 16-4), but eventually fell 88-79. The Blue Devils started the game hot from 3, but then a quick switch by Syracuse’s defense to the triangle and two had the Orange looking like they could pull off another March upset. Boeheim said they practiced the defense for just “one minute” on Wednesday night, but it helped give SU a four-point halftime lead, and the Orange led as late as 3:32 in the second half. However, the Blue Devils eventually found their 3-point shooting again and avoided a potentially embarrassing upset and exit from the ACC Tournament.
In two prior games against Duke this year, Syracuse lost by 20 and 25 points, respectively. AJ Griffin shone from beyond the arc, and Williams and Banchero both took advantage of Syracuse’s zone down low.
Initially, it looked like it would be more of the same on Thursday. The Blue Devils shot 6-for-13 from 3-point range to jump out to an early 11-point lead. Trevor Keels and Moore began to find soft spots in the Syracuse zone and hit two and three 3s, respectively.
SU soon switched to the triangle and two, though, presenting Duke with a different look. Joe Girard III and Symir Torrence played man-to-man defense on Duke’s guards, Keels and Moore, and Cole Swider, Jimmy and either Bourama Sidibe or Frank Anselem would form a triangle around the paint to stop Duke from getting easy buckets down low.
It gave us a chance. That’s all you can do in a game like this.
Head coach Jim Boeheim on SU’s triangle and two defense
“The purpose was to try to limit Williams and Griffin,” Boeheim said. “They had (48 combined points) in Syracuse, and we wanted to limit those two guys.”
The defense worked particularly well on Griffin, who had just four points in 22 minutes, and has also been dealing with food poisoning, according to Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
In the middle of an 11-0 run by Girard, the guard was tailing his man near the top of the arc. When Joey Baker played a pass into the middle, Girard jumped the pass and gathered the loose ball. Baker then fouled to stop the fastbreak.
In the first half, SU held Duke scoreless for multiple stretches of two minutes or more. The Blue Devils also missed nine straight 3s as Keels and Moore began to cool off after the defensive switch. Duke scored just 36 points and shot 27.3% from 3 in the first half.
“You saw what they did to us the first two games,” Jimmy said. “(The triangle and two) definitely messed with them a little bit, messed with their heads a little bit. We went into the half winning largely because of that.”
But in the second half, Duke began to figure out a way to score on the triangle and two. With Griffin struggling, Krzyzewski turned to Roach off the bench to give his team three ball handlers on the court.
Roach had gone 1-for-5 in the first half but soon began to find spot up shots in the final 20 minutes. First, he played the ball to Banchero in the high post. Torrence and Girard were covering Keels and Moore, so left open at the top of the arc, Roach got the ball back and hit the 3. He did the same thing two minutes later, except this time Moore flashed to the high post and gave Roach the return pass.
Then with eight minutes left, Roach snuck to the right corner of the court. Banchero had the ball at the top of the arc and quickly swung a chest pass for a 3 that made it a five-point game.
The Orange battled back despite Roach’s 3s to get a one-point lead with three and a half minutes left. But eventually, it was Roach’s 3 with just over a minute left that made it a two-possession game that effectively ended Syracuse’s season — or at least any hope of repeating the magic of Marches past.
“They’ve got weapons everywhere. You’ve got to give them something at the end of the day,” Jimmy said. “Credit to them, they stepped up and knocked them down when they had to.”
So in a must-win game against an opponent that SU had lost by an average margin of 22.5 points this season, Boeheim found an innovative way to keep Syracuse in the game despite missing the ACC’s leading scorer Buddy Boeheim. But in the end, it was Duke’s talent that won out as Roach provided a spark off the bench while three of Syracuse’s starters — Jimmy, Torrence and Girard — wore out after playing the entire game.
“It gave us a chance,” Boeheim said. “That’s all you can do in a game like this.”
The post New defensive look not enough as Syracuse falls to Duke 88-79 in ACC Tournament appeared first on The Daily Orange.