Duke Now

Five takeaways from Duke's win over Syracuse in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III makes a monster slam in victory over Syrcause

Watch a time-lapse as Duke's Marvin Bagley III slam in two over Syracuse's Bourama Sidibe during the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.
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Watch a time-lapse as Duke's Marvin Bagley III slam in two over Syracuse's Bourama Sidibe during the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.

Duke beat Syracuse late Friday night in what its players called a "battle," a "fight," and a "grind it out game."

The game was tight throughout, and No. 11 seed Syracuse had one final chance to tie it at at the end, but the Blue Devils held on to win 69-65. No. 2 seed Duke will now advance to the Elite 8 to play No. 1 seed Kansas on Sunday.

Kansas beat Clemson in the game before Duke's 80-76.

Here are five takeaways from Duke's win:

1. Duke can't get off to slow second half starts

Duke finished the first half on a 10-0 run, which gave it a seven-point lead heading into halftime. But the Blue Devils started the second half flat. Syracuse scored four consecutive points before Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout and snatched off his suit jacket.

"We played horrible in the first couple of minutes of the second half," Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III said. "And we can't do that, especially in a tournament like this, it's one-and-done. You don't get re-dos."

Against Rhode Island in the Round of 32, Duke got out to a fast start in the second half, which set the tone for the rest of the game.

When Duke could have started fast and put Syracuse away, it instead gave it life.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.

2. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers

Syracuse out-shot Duke 49 to 39 percent. Syracuse out-rebounded Duke 37 to 33. But the difference was turnovers. Duke forced Syracuse into 16 turnovers, 12 of which came in the first half. Those 16 turnovers led to 18 points off turnovers for Duke. The reason that was crucial was because Syracuse's defense is so hard to score on.

By forcing turnovers, Duke was able to get easier buckets.

On the other side, Duke only turned the ball over seven times. In the past, turnovers have been Duke's Achilles' heel. It averages 12.5 turnovers per game, but was well below its season average on Friday. Only freshman point guard Trevon Duval had more than one turnover. He had three for the game.

3. Duke finally pulls out a close one

With the win Duke is now 2-6 in games decided by five points or less. Its only other win by five points or less came on Nov. 26 against Florida, a 87-84 win.

Duke had lost six consecutive close games since then, and couldn't seem to come through when games were tight. But against Syracuse it was different. The Orange threatened to tie the game, but Duke played smart defense.

Bagley said the key on offense was limiting the silly mistakes they had made in the past in crucial situations.

"We didn't make the easy pass or the easy play," Bagley said of previous close games. "We'd try to go for the homerun."

For instance, on Feb. 26, when Duke played Virginia Tech in Blacksburgh, it led by five points with 1:33 remaining. But the Blue Devils turned the ball over three times in the final 90 seconds and lost the game 64-63.

Or on Jan. 27, in Duke’s game against Virginia. Duke had a crucial turnover in the game’s final minute. The Blue Devils trailed 60-58 with 1:09 left in the game and had a chance to tie the game. Duval rebounded the basketball and attempted to pass it up court to Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. But the pass was intercepted by UVa.’s Ty Jerome.

Duke lost that game 65-63.

"But I think we did a great job at just keeping our poise, making the right play, making the right pass and not turning it over, and things that we've been working for all year," Bagley said.

Duke's Marvin Bagley III talks about the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.

4. Duke fought

It was a scrappy game. And Duke had to battle down to pull this one out. Duke sophomore center Marques Bolden and freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. each came down with some big rebounds and key blocks that helped Duke in the second half.

One block from Bolden came with a little less than 12 minutes left. It led to a Duke shot, which was rebounded and put back in by Bagley, who had 22 points and 7 rebounds. That put Duke up nine points in the second half.

"It's just awesome we're playing so well and we think we deserved that win," Bolden said.

Duke's Wendell Carter, Jr. talks about the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.

5. The zone is a different monster

Jim Boeheim-led teams are known for their 2-3 zone. And while Duke might have beaten Syracuse, it still hasn't quite solved the zone. Fortunately for Duke, no other team runs the zone as well as the Orange. Syracuse is long. Of its top seven players, none are shorter than 6-5. And its tallest player is 7-2.

Duke has played its best against man defenses, which are the most common defenses played around the country. From here on out, scoring should be easier.

Duke's Grayson Allen and Coach Mike Krzyzewski talk about floor-slapping while playing zone defense after the Blue Devils' victory over Syracuse in the Midwest Regional Semifinal at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Friday, March 23, 2018.

Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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