As we fully expected, Syracuse started the game with Duke with a huge emotional headwind, spurred on by the crowd, by people being excited for this game for days beforehand, and possibly also by last year's meeting in Durham, which saw Jim Boeheim lose his jacket, and his mind, with the game in the balance.
And in the first half, Syracuse was just brilliant, with Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije raining down threes at will. All of this season's trials and travails melted away in the face of an incredible performance.
But Duke came back from a double-digit deficit to cut the lead to three at halftime, and after the half, it was a very different game.
And really, the change came before the half.
Duke was down 34-23 after Michael Gbinije hit a three.
Quinn Cook hit a three shortly thereafter, then Rakeem Christmas hit a basket to push Syracuse to a 36-26 lead.
Then Matt Jones hit a layup, Justise Winslow hit a three, Tyus Jones hit a pair of free throws and Matt Jones hit a three.
That pushed Duke to 36 at the half; Syracuse got a free throw from Rakeem Christmas and a jumper by Gbinije.
At the beginning of the second half, Duke went on a 13-2 run and never looked back.
Syracuse pushed back though, cutting the lead to just four with 3:51 to go.
The most anticipated matchup of the night was between Duke's Jahlil Okafor and Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas. Both big men are having terrific years, but Okafor's skills are on a different planet.
The young big man hit 10-15 for 23 points (3-4 from the line) and had 13 rebounds.
Syracuse did manage to force four turnovers from him, but at least two were because he put the ball down near defenders he didn't see.
As for Christmas, he shot 5-17, with at least two of the shots coming at the very end, scored 11 points and had six boards and four blocks.
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim was impressed: "He's a tremendous player. He's got the best footwork of any big man I've seen. They did a great job of finding him in the zone down there, and he's a great finisher around the basket."
The win puts Duke in a tie for second place in the ACC with Notre Dame, with Duke holding a 30 point tiebreaker.
Since Louisville and UNC both lost, the Cards and Heels both have four losses and thus tie for third.
Syracuse falls to 7-5.
Before the game, like most ACC schools, Syracuse honored the late Dean Smith with a moment of silence. It's really remarkable when you think about it. How many coaches have been so honored in any conference? We suspect Smith would have been a bit embarrassed by it, but it's still a very nice thing that people are doing.
We're certain that Duke will honor Smith as well when UNC comes to Cameron on Wednesday. It's going to be a bit strange, really. On the one hand, there's the traditional lust for beating a rival and on the other, a genuine recognition that we lost someone significant.
It's a very strange environment for this sort of game.
- OKAFOR SHINES: Big man’s 23/13 lift Duke past Orange, Gbinije
- Okafor Guides No. 4 Duke Past Syracuse 80-72
- Notes: Duke 80, Syracuse 72
- Box Score: Duke 80, Syracuse 72
- College basketball roundup: Duke downs Syracuse
- Okafor, Duke rally past Syracuse
- Stubborn Orange falls short against No. 4 Duke, 80-72
- Jim Boeheim postgame news conference for SU-Duke
- SU's Roberson has double-double
- Coach K.: Gbinije 'the player we thought'
- Okafor outplays Christmas in battle of the bigs