Duke outscored Syracuse 44-33 in the second half to turn the game around.
The Blue Devils came into Syracuse and beat the Orange 80-72 in front of 35,466 fans at the Carrier Dome, but it looked like Syracuse may have had a chance at halftime.
The Orange led the Blue Devils 39-36 at the end of the half thanks to a major spark from Michael Gbinije, who finished with a career-high 27. The former Blue Devil hit five 3-pointers in the first half.
Tyler Roberson also hit his career-high with 19 points. These were the two players who stepped up when Rakeem Christmas and Trevor Cooney could not do much.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spoke highly of his former player and even said he wishes Duke still had him.
For Gbinije, he was pleased with his performance but said it would have felt better to go out with a win.
“It felt good to hit shots,” Gbinije said. “Winning would have felt a lot better.”
When Gbinije was told about Krzyzewski’s comments, he said: “I appreciate that.”
Moving to the next step, these players need to continue the hot hand, while Cooney and Christmas need to get back to their normal play. The tough stretch has officially begun, but Jim Boeheim says his team is ready for Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Notre Dame.
“All the games we’ve had have been tough,” Boeheim said. “I think we’re prepared.”
Syracuse has one more shot at Duke this year, and it will come at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Christmas was 5-for-17 from the field and finished with 11 points. After the game, Okafor – the likely first overall pick in June’s NBA Draft – had some positive things to say about Christmas.
“He missed a bunch of easy shots that he’s been making all year,” Okafor said. “We play them next time and I’m sure he’ll make all of those.”
The tough stretch continues, and Syracuse needs more guys than simply Gbinije and Roberson to carry this team.