Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was right.
Syracuse was better offensively since the last time the Blue Devils and the Orange played — a 60-44 Feb. 24 win for Duke in Durham.
On this night, though, Duke and Syracuse kept the score close for the entire game. But Duke answered Syracuse's comeback attempt with some clutch buckets and free throws for the victory.
It almost didn't happen that way. Senior guard Grayson Allen missed his second of two free throw attempts with about 11 seconds left in the game. Syracuse was down by three points and had a chance to tie it. But Allen made the smart play by fouling Syracuse's leading scorer, Tyus Battle, before he could get a chance to put up a 3-point shot. He missed the second of two free throws.
Freshman guard Gary Trent Jr. hit two free throws on the next possession to put the game out of reach, and the Blue Devils beat the Orange 69-65 in the Sweet 16 at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
"When I (saw) it finally go through it was great," Trent said of the two late free throws. "It was like big weight off your shoulders."
Duke freshman forward Marvin Bagley III finished with 22 points and 7 rebounds. He was 8-for-12 from the floor. Allen added 15 points, Trent had 14 and so did freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr.
No. 2 seeded Duke (29-7) will advance to its first Elite 8 since 2015, when it won a national championship. Its opponent will be the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region, Kansas (30-7), which beat Clemson earlier Friday 80-76.
While it wasn't quite like the first matchup in Durham, the game's pace was slow and easy shots were hard to find.
"It was a battle," Allen said. "It was a fight."
Duke had a tough time shooting the 3-ball. In the first game, the Blue Devils shot 2-for-18. In this game, Duke shot 5-for-26 from behind the 3-point line.
Syracuse led by a few points at a time in the first half. But after trailing by three points with 5:20 left, Duke ended the half on a 10-0 run to go up by seven points at the break. After that, Duke never trailed.
In the second half, the Blue Devils started slow, and the Orange scored four consecutive points, causing Krzyzewski to call a timeout and take off his jacket. It didn't necessarily work. Syracuse cut the lead to one point multiple times, before Duke finally went on a 10-2 run midway through the second half to go up by nine.
Trent knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner. Duke forced Syracuse into a 10-second violation, then finished the run with a 3-pointer from the wing from Allen and Duke led 48-39 with 12:36 left in the game.
Syracuse was able to cut the lead to three points with 1:20 left in the game after Syracuse freshman forward Oshae Brissett's two-point shot. But Trent answered with a layup to put the Blue Devils back up by five points with 51.7 seconds remaining.
Syracuse had the opportunity to tie it at the end of the game but could not, allowing Duke to advance to the Elite 8.
“We beat a really good team tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “Battle is such a good player. And Jim (Boeheim) is my dearest friend...He's as good a coach as there has ever been.”