First off, before we break down the ins and outs of this game, let’s acknowledge how fun of a ride that was because it’s really easy to forget just how pathetic and boring this team was at some points this season. I mean they seemed destined for the NIT multiple times but kept on fighting against all odds just as they did on Friday night.
Duke made five or six plays in Omaha Friday night that made a casual fan audibly declare “yep that’s it, this game is over,” and they had every right too. After all, it just seemed like a matter of time before the more talented Blue Devils roster pulled away like we saw in Cameron Indoor back in February. But, that’s what was supposed to happen in the Michigan State game too and the TCU game for that matter. And like those games, the 2-3 zone was the great equalizer in this one as well.
I mean at times it seemed like Duke, which has one of the best offenses in the country, couldn’t get by the zone unless it scored a second chance bucket from one of their 16 offensive rebounds or by connecting on an alley-oop on the baseline. That was really it. The Blue Devils couldn’t take advantage of their size and just kept settling for threes. Granted, Duke was getting some clean looks in the second half, but Friday night was even more proof that 19 and 20 year olds still can’t play against the zone.
At the end of the day though, Marvin Bagley made up for Grayson Allen and Gary Trent’s off night. The potential Naismith award winner terrorized the Orange for 22 points, a bulk of which came off his 7 offensive rebounds.
For Syracuse, it was Tyus Battle leading the way as usual. The stud sophomore nailed his mandatory clutch shot in the closing stretch, this time it was a triple that cut the deficit to three with roughly 60 seconds left. After Battle’s 19 point outing, the speculation will now begin for the coming weeks and months on whether the sophomore is going to come back for his junior season or test the NBA waters.
The same can also be said about freshmen Oshae Brissett, who also hit a clutch jumper in the closing stretch to keep the Orange within striking distance and finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds. In Malachi Richardson-esque fashion, Brissett skyrocketed up draft boards from Selection Sunday to now by averaging 17 points and 9.25 rebounds per game during SU’s magical run.
Who knows if Battle and Brissett will come back. But, regardless, the narrative and future of Syracuse basketball has changed dramatically in the past month. Back on February 24th, the Orange looked like it didn’t belong on the floor with Duke. Jim Boeheim and company looked doomed for another NIT appearance and eventual fall to the dreaded cycle of mediocrity in the ACC for the foreseeable future. Now on March 24th, Syracuse looks like it belonged with the upper echelon of the ACC in a marquee sweet 16 matchup while also being on the cusp of bringing in one of its best recruiting classes in recent memory. Sure, it stings now, but if it’s any silver lining, this tournament run and Friday night just further proved that Syracuse basketball is back.