Okafor Leads Duke Past Syracuse

Freshman records 23 points and 13 boards to help Duke move to 9-3 in conference play.

Syracuse, N.Y. -- Jahlil Okafor had 23 points and 13 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season, outplaying Syracuse big man Rakeem Christmas as No. 4 Duke beat the Orange 80-72 on Saturday night.

Duke (22-3, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) won its fifth straight and withstood a standout performance from ex-Blue Devil Michael Gbinije, who scored a career-high 27 points for Syracuse.

Syracuse (16-9, 7-5) had exhibited plenty of grit in the two games since a postseason ban was announced as the school awaits the results of an NCAA investigation into the athletic department. The Orange had lost at Pittsburgh and won at Boston College.

Syracuse led 39-36 at the break, but the Blue Devils began the second half with a 13-2 run as Christmas struggled, missing twice from in close with Okafor leaning on him as Okafor began to assert himself inside, scoring eight points in the first 5 minutes.

Quinn Cook's second 3-pointer of the game gave Duke a 43-39 edge with 17:42 left and Okafor hit twice around a runner by Tyus Jones to give the Blue Devils a 49-41 lead.

Unable to close the gap for nearly eight minutes, Syracuse finally narrowed it to 66-62 with 3:51 left on a mid-range jumper by Christmas and two free throws by Tyler Roberson.

Okafor's slam and two free throws by Jones helped keep the Orange at bay, and Cook swished six straight free throws in the final 30 seconds. Okafor finished 10 of 15 from the floor.

Cook scored 17 points, Jones had 11 points and six assists, and Justise Winslow added 12 points before fouling out for Duke.

Christmas finished 5 of 17 for 11 points and grabbed six rebounds, three below his average. Roberson had a career-high 19 points and Trevor Cooney added 11 on 4-for-14 shooting for the Orange.

Despite the impending ban, the game attracted a sellout crowd of 34,446. That matched the Carrier Dome record set last year when the two teams, guided by the two winningest coaches in the history of Division I basketball -- Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim have a combined 1,969 victories -- met for the first time as members of the ACC.

This game featured two of the most accomplished big men in the country in Syracuse senior Christmas and Duke freshman Okafor. They both entered the game averaging 18 points, and Okafor led the ACC in shooting (66.5 percent). Both struggled in the first half, Okafor slamming the court after one of his six misses in the period and Christmas shooting just 1 for 7.

Duke went hard at Christmas early on, and despite falling behind 18-12, the strategy worked for the Blue Devils. Christmas picked up his second foul midway through the first half.

Unfazed, Gbinije, who played one nondescript year at Duke before transferring, took charge for Syracuse, hitting three 3-pointers in a span of less than two minutes to break a tie and give the Orange a 27-18 lead with 6:18 left in the opening half. The silky-smooth junior swingman hit twice from the left side and then from the right wing, his fourth from long range in the period.

Okafor stopped the Orange rush with a shot off the glass, and Winslow followed with a three-point play.

Gbinije responded with another 3, a career-high fifth, from well behind the line at the top of the key to boost the lead back to 11 as the crowd shook the Carrier Dome with a deafening roar.

Keyed by 3-pointers from Cook and Matt Jones, Duke closed the half with a 13-5 spurt in the final 3:28 to trail by just three at the break.

Syracuse instituted its self-imposed postseason ban 10 days ago for the men's basketball team as part of its case pending before the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The ban includes the ACC tournament, which means the Orange have only six games left in the season.

Boeheim and Krzyzewski smiled as they shook hands at center court before the opening tip, and a moment of silence was observed for former North Carolina coach Dean Smith before the national anthem. Smith died last Saturday at age 83.

---

TIP-INS

Syracuse: The Orange have clinched their 44th straight winning season, the top streak in Division I. ... Boeheim has an NCAA-record 36 seasons of 20 or more wins.

Duke: Cook has made at least one 3-pointer in an ACC-leading 35 straight games. ... Okafor (66.5 percent) is one of only nine players among the NCAA's statistical leaders shooting over 60 percent from the floor. Okafor also is the first player in Duke history to shoot 75 percent or better in 10 games in a single season. ... The Blue Devils have been ranked in an NCAA-best 149 consecutive AP polls.

UP NEXT

Syracuse hosts Louisville on Wednesday night.

Duke hosts North Carolina on Wednesday night.

The Devils Den Top Stories