Duke continues stumble, drops third consecutive game to Syracuse

For the first time since February of 2007, No. 20 Duke has lost three consecutive games.

And in what would have been a pretty shocking development in the preseason, that’s also going to make them unranked in the AP poll for the first time since that stretch.

The Blue Devils fell to 14-5 on the season (3-3 in ACC play) following a 64-62 loss to Syracuse on Monday. Forward Tyler Roberson led the way for the Orange, scoring 14 points and grabbing 20 rebounds. He was an absolute monster on the offensive glass, grabbing 12 on that end, leading to 17 second-chance points for the Orange. His performance tied or broke multiple marks. He was the first Syracuse player to get 20 rebounds in a game since Rick Jackson did so in 2010, and those 20 rebounds are the most by any opponent in the history of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

For Duke, it was a rough game where the team really struggled to get anything going offensively. It’s worth noting that it was the slowest game that they’ve played this season, only amounting to a total of 57 possessions. And that pace of play really hindered one of the better transition teams in America.

Of their 62 field-goal attempts, the Blue Devils shot 37 3-pointers, making only 10. If not for a gargantuan performance from Marshall Plumlee, who scored 19 points and grabbed 17 boards — including 11 himself on the offensive end — this one likely would have been over earlier than the final possession. It was a case where they simply did not get enough penetration into the middle of the Orange defense in order to collapse the 2-3 zone. They were fine to just put up shots from the outside instead of getting into the teeth of the defense, and it really went against them.

Another pretty major issue for Duke was depth. The team only went seven-deep, including little-used forward Sean Obi, who only saw two minutes of action. That lack of interior depth meant that the Orange were able to wreak havoc inside on the glass and in the paint overall. It was another matchup where senior forward Amile Jefferson was missed, but even beyond the frontcourt, the backcourt really struggled as well. Freshman Luke Kennard went scoreless on 0-of-9 from the field, and fellow freshman Derryck Thornton didn’t provide much until hitting a pair of 3s late.

Syracuse deserves praise for going into one of the toughest places to play in America and coming out with a win. But this game says a lot more about where Duke is than where the Orange are. And honestly, it’s pretty hard to say where Duke can fix its issues. The guard play will likely bounce back at some point, as Kennard isn’t going to play like this every night. But until Jefferson returns or until Chase Jeter gets ready enough to give them steady minutes, the Blue Devils’ interior depth will be reliant solely on Plumlee. That’s going to make them a rather volatile team moving forward.

The sky is not falling in Durham. The Blue Devils should still make the NCAA Tournament by the time the season ends. However, there are going to be some significant growing pains throughout that time. And at the moment, those pains will include not being ranked for the first time in nearly nine years.

Duke has some issues it needs to attend to. (USATSI)
Duke has some issues it needs to attend to. (USATSI)

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