Grayson Allen dribbled toward half court, but before he even got there, the Duke guard tossed a long alley-oop lob to Marvin Bagley III.
Bagley jumped toward the rim, catching Allen’s pass over a Syracuse defender and throwing it down for a two-handed dunk.
The fifth-ranked Blue Devils (24-5, 12-4 ACC) showed they can easily win without Bagley, the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder. But they’re a national championship contender with him in the lineup.
Bagley returned to his dominant form Saturday night, scoring 19 points and grabbing 7 rebounds to lead Duke to a 60-44 win over Syracuse in his first game back after missing the past four games with a mild right knee sprain.
Bagley threw down dunks, excited the Cameron Crazies and made things easier on Wendell Carter Jr. in the freshman’s first game since he was named in reports about an FBI investigation of college basketball.
With Bagley attracting plenty of attention in the paint, Carter had 16 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals as Duke prevented Syracuse (18-11, 7-9) from getting into an offensive rhythm.
In doing so, the Blue Devils turned a 9-point halftime lead into another convincing win — its fifth in a row.
Marvin Bagley III’s return
Bagley began the game in an unusual position — coming off the bench as a backup.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski decided against starting the freshman phenom in his first game back after missing the past two weeks. Sophomore Javin DeLaurier started again in Bagley’s place.
However, Bagley wasted no time finding his rhythm as Allen and Carter set him up for easy dunks. He scored 14 of Duke’s 27 points in the first half on 6-for-7 shooting.
Bagley showed no signs that he was still bothered by the knee injury. He made an immediate impact, hitting 8 of 9 shots while helping to take the pressure off Allen and Gary Trent Jr. to have to drain 3-pointers.
With the Blue Devils struggling to sink outside shots — making only 2 of 18 3-point attempts — they returned to their winning formula of relying on Bagley and Carter to score in the paint.
Syracuse’s offensive struggles
Syracuse and Duke combined to miss all 20 of their 3-point attempts in the first half.
However, the Orange didn’t do much better shooting from inside the arc.
Syracuse was held to a season-low 16 points in the first half, making just 28.6 percent of its shots (8 of 29) while committing 9 turnovers. Even more amazing: the Orange didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half.
Duke, in comparison, made 9 of 10 free-throw attempts before halftime.
The Blue Devils managed to defend the rim with Bagley back in the lineup to team with Carter in the paint. Still, Syracuse struggled mightily with its shooting and scored a season-low 44 points.
Guard Tyus Battle was the Orange’s leading scorer with 12 points, 8 points below his season average.
As bad as Syracuse’s offense looked, it trailed only 27-16 at halftime after Duke also shot 31 percent from the floor and missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts in the first half.
Things didn’t improve enough for the Orange in the second half, even though they made 6 3-pointers after halftime. They shot just 31.5 percent for the game and had 17 turnovers.
Grayson Allen’s role
Allen emerged as a go-to scorer in Bagley’s absence.
With the freshman sidelined, Allen shot his way out of his recent slump and carried Duke’s offense while averaging 23.8 points over the past four games.
However, the 6-foot-5 senior again took a back seat in Bagley’s return. His shooting woes came back as well.
Allen missed all 5 of his 3-point attempts in the first half, scoring only 2 points. He finished with just 6 points, making only 3 of 9 shots and missing all 6 of his 3-point attempts.
He made more of an impact as a passer, finding Bagley in the paint for dunks and finishing with 6 assists.
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