When Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III checked into the game Saturday, the some 9,300 fans in Cameron Indoor Stadium gave him a standing ovation.
They had waited for his return, since he injured his knee in a game against North Carolina on Feb. 8. He had missed the last four games with a mild knee sprain. And in his first game back, Bagley didn’t disappoint.
Bagley scored 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first half of Duke’s game against Syracuse on Saturday. He finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds, and helped lead Duke to a 60-44 win.
Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. added 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The win makes five straight for Duke. With two games left in the regular season, No. 5 Duke (24-5, 12-4 ACC) can clinch second place in the ACC standings if it beats UNC when the two teams meet on March 3.
Before Bagley returned from injury, some wondered whether he would disrupt the chemistry of a team that seemed to be clicking on all cylinders.
Duke had won four consecutive games by an average of 17 points per game in Bagley’s absence. But Bagley seemed to fit right in. Senior guard Grayson Allen, who finished with 6 points and 6 assists, found Bagley twice for alley-oops in the first half, including one he threw from halfcourt.
Duke didn’t score much on Saturday, but that can be attributed to Syracuse’s 2-3 zone defense, which slowed the pace of the game and gave Duke fewer opportunities to score. It also made it tough for Duke to score in the paint. Duke also played zone for the entire game.
Still, Duke’s defense was tough. Syracuse (18-11, 7-9 ACC) only scored 16 points in the first half, the fewest number of points the Blue Devils have given up in a first half.
Neither team could make a three-pointer. In the first half, the two teams combined to shoot 0-for-20 from behind the three-point line.
The first time either team scored a three-pointer was about five minutes into the second half. Duke didn’t make its first 3-pointer until 7:32 left in the game. Trevon Duval hit a wide-open three-pointer from the wing to give Duke a 44-32 lead.
That three-pointer seemed to spark the Blue Devils, as they continued on a 6-0 run, extending the lead by 15 points. From there, Syracuse never got closer than 12 points, and Duke won again for the fifth straight time.