Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Orange Beat Duke

The Orange are at 21-0, uncharted waters for the Syracuse basketball squad. They should also move up to #1 in the nation come Monday night, following #1 Arizona’s loss to California on Saturday night. 

The Syracuse / Duke game at the Dome on Saturday night was college basketball at its finest. Two well coached teams playing in front of an extremely hyped NCAA record crowd, in a tight well-played game. The two winningest coaches in men’s Division I history, with teams with collegiate All Americans, McDonald’s All-Americans, and highly touted freshman. Both teams committed only eight turnovers each in the game, and only a combined two in the second half. There was well executed offense and well executed defense. Add in a dash of the game being the first game between Syracuse and Duke in ACC conference play, and throw in a dramatic three point basket to send the game into overtime, and you have a great game. 

Both teams played very well. Here’s some of the numbers for Duke: 15 of 36 from three point range (41%); 18 offensive rebounds; 20 assists and only 8 turnovers; 89 total points; the opponent was held to only 3 three point field goals. If you told Mike Krzyzewski his Blue Devils would post those numbers, I am sure he would have felt his team won the game. And Syracuse Jim Boeheim would have been concerned about those numbers. 

Syracuse, however, had some impressive numbers of its own. The Orange shot 57% from the floor, had only 8 turnovers, a +5 rebound margin, only 8 turnovers, 9 blocked shots, and an impressive 26 – 32 from the free throw line. Those types of numbers will win most games. It was an interesting game. Krzyzewski’s game plan seemed to recognize that the Blue Devils would not be able to beat the Orange on the inside, and he was committed to working the three point offense. Duke ran that offense well, though it was surprising they did not challenge the Orange more inside. Then again, when you successful from the perimeter, and unsuccessful inside, it is alluring to keep going outside. I think Amile Jefferson was outstanding at cleaning up Duke’s perimeter misses, especially in the first half. Duke did struggle inside when it did try to run its offense there. A tip of the hat to the Orange who were smothering inside on their defense. Whenever Duke thought they had an open opportunity, the Orange (primarily Rakeem Christmas) were there to block or alter the shot. 

Defensively, Duke had problems all day with the Orange inside. Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson both picked up 4 fouls costing them valuable playing time in the second half, and both ultimately fouled out. And when Jefferson or Parker were not on the court, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant had a field day. Krzyzewski was stuck in a hard place; Jabari Parker likely faced the toughest front court he’s seen, and struggled with it. In three weeks, the rematch should be interesting, as both teams do have areas they can improve upon, and they have adjustments they can make. 

The Orange are playing at a very high level right now. The win against Duke was a combination of all five starters playing well, and the bench contributing enough to let most the starters get some rest. C.J. Fair had a career high 28 points, and proved he was worthy of Naismith consideration. When the Orange needed him to score, he scored. He recognized and took advantage of the defensive mismatches when he saw them. A brilliant game. 

Jerami Grant just continued to keep his stock rising. He had an outstanding day on the boards, with a total of 12 rebounds, and Duke was hard pressed to stop the long limbed explosive leaper. They fouled him several times, and Grant made them pay for every single foul by making 10 out of 10 free throw attempts. I was concerned when he picked up his third foul early in the second half, but he played smart and did not pick up another. 

Rakeem Christmas was a difference maker in the game. He showed up and was aggressive on both ends of the court. Defensively he shut down the Blue Devils with 6 blocked shots and two steals. On the offensive end of the court he made 2 out of 4 shots, and had four offensive rebounds. Baye Keita and Christmas, the two headed monster, had 9 points, 6 blocked shots and 16 rebounds in 45 minutes of play. That type of contribution from our center position will go a long way in winning games. 

Trevor Cooney was shadowed all night and had a tough time getting open for three point attempts. No problem for Cooney as he mixed up his game and drove the lane for layups, and pulled up for mid range jumpers. Twice in the game he had a chance for a three and twice he nailed it. Cooney also is displaying more confidence with his ball handling and provided Ennis relief on the full court presses from Duke. 

Tyler Ennis played like Ennis does every game. Flawlessly running the offense with 9 assists and only 2 turnovers. He threw Duke for a loop when he decided to score himself, rather than work the ball, and I am sure that helped to loosen the defense up on the inside for the rest of the game. 

Michael Gbinije had 12 minutes of solid basketball where he provided some good defense and three assists. Tyler Roberson had five minutes of time in the first half where he presented himself well. He had a nice drive along the baseline which drew the defense to him, and finished off a fast break with an impressive dunk.

You know it was a great game when Jim Boeheim flashed a big smile after Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon drained the 3 point shot as time expired, sending the game into overtime.  It was an epic game and Boeheim realized it. He had coached 1,255 games at Syracuse, and he knew this one was a special one.

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