Marvin Bagley III, Duke to Face Kansas in Elite Eight with Tough Win vs Syracuse

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMarch 24, 2018

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 23:  Marvin Bagley III #35 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts against the Syracuse Orange during the first half in the 2018 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at CenturyLink Center on March 23, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Their offense lacked fluidity, and threes wouldn't fall. But the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils found a way to stay alive in the 2018 men's NCAA tournament and slip past the 11th-seeded Syracuse Orange for a 69-65 Sweet 16 win at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday night. 

Duke will now square off against No. 1 Kansas in the Elite Eight after the Jayhawks downed Clemson, 80-76, in the day's first Midwest Regional semifinal.              

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Marvin Bagley III led the Blue Devils with 22 points and seven rebounds, and in doing so he became the sixth freshman to drop at least 20 points in each of his first three NCAA tournament appearances, according to ESPN Stats & Info

However, Bagley was the only real constant Duke had to offer. 

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The Blue Devils generally struggled to solve Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense, and there were times when they looked just as flustered as the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans did in their second-round loss to the Orange. 

Namely, Duke was crippled by stretches of passivity as its ball-handlers failed to knife into the lane, collapse the zone and dish to baseline cutters or shooters.

But even when the Blue Devils were able to find open bodies inside the arc, hesitancy seemed to consume their shooters, as CBSSports.com's Reid Forgrave observed: 

Instead, Duke too often settled for long threes—a strategy that could have proved costly had it not managed a 20-11 edge at the free-throw line. The Blue Devils shot 5-of-26 on treys—Grayson Allen was 3-of-14 by himself—and even uncontested looks couldn't find twine. 

The Orange, hardly an offensive juggernaut, weren't any better. 

Not only did Tyus Battle (19 points) account for all four of Syracuse's made threes, but Duke's long interior defenders and active guards stymied the Orange's ball movement. As a result, Syracuse finished with 16 turnovers compared to 12 assists—a disparity that ultimately hindered their ability to complete a comeback after falling behind by eight with 3:24 to play. 

With that scare behind them, the Blue Devils' attention will shift to their game with the top-seeded Jayhawks on Sunday as their pursuit of a second national title in the last four years intensifies. 

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