OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Duke found a way to crack Syracuse’s zone defense, and now the Blue Devils are a game away from the Final Four for the first time since the 2015 team won it all.
Gary Trent Jr., made two clutch free throws with 6.3 seconds left to help second-seeded Duke hold off the 11th-seeded Orange for a 69-65 chess match of a victory in the Midwest Region semifinals Friday night.
All that talk about busted brackets and the maddest March ever – not happening in the Midwest.
The win by Duke (29-7) set up a 1 vs. 2 showdown Sunday against Kansas, which also escaped with a four-point victory earlier against Clemson.
Syracuse (23-14), the last at-large team invited to the tournament, saw its unlikely run to the Sweet 16 end – unable to overcome 16 turnovers against a Mike Krzyzewski-designed zone that was every bit as pesky as Jim Boeheim’s vaunted 2-3.
Early in the second half, Krzyzewski tore off his jacket and threw it to the floor, calling a timeout after Syracuse scored two quick baskets to trim its deficit to three.
”It set the tone for me,” said Coach K, who has two freshmen, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr., who will likely be NBA lottery picks later this spring. ”You could see. I coach `em, so I could see, they were real young. They had young looks. Thank goodness they got out of it.”
Syracuse was looking for a near-repeat of two seasons ago when it made the Final Four as a 10 seed. This year, the Orange was an 11, but the Elite Eight already has one of those – Loyola-Chicago in the South.
Syracuse is no typical 11, and this was a zone-centric battle of wits between two of the most renowned coaches in the game.
No lead ever reached double digits, and not until Trent Jr. swished his free throws was the game sealed for Duke, which will try to take Krzyzewski to his 13th Final Four.
Bagley III scored 13 of his 22 points and had all eight of his rebounds in the second half. Seven of those boards were on the offensive end and led to second-chance baskets.
Tyus Battle led the Orange with 19 points.
Syracuse’s 2-3 zone flummoxed its first three opponents in the tournament, but Duke found holes, throwing lobs behind Syracuse’s big men in the middle for layups and dunks. Meanwhile, Grayson Allen was quick to shoot the 3 in the second half. All but one of his 15 attempts from the floor were from 3. He went 3 for 14 from behind the arc and finished with 15 points.
WHAT HE SAID (AND DIDN’T SAY)
”Battle is one of the best players in the country…He’s a big-time player. I love Tyus,” Coach K said. ”I love their team. I love their coach even more. He does such a great job with them.” But when asked about Kansas, Krzyzewski demurred, saying it was out of respect for Syracuse and his good buddy, Boeheim. Krzyzewski said he’ll talk KU Saturday.