“If you only depend on the 3, then you’re going to be in trouble,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday. “But we’ve been a good rebounding team. And we have good inside players.”
That was the key in the second half, when Syracuse actually outscored the Blue Devils. Duke, which had been outrebounded 19-12 in the first half, grabbed 21 rebounds in the second, including 10 on the offensive glass. Bagley led all players with 22 points; his teammate Wendell Carter Jr. led both teams with 12 rebounds and also scored 14 points.
The Orange led for much of the first half, as the sophomore guard Tyus Battle led all players with 11 points, 9 of them from 3-pointers. Through the middle of the half, the Orange were 8 for 12 from the field with three offensive rebounds.
This was surprising. Boeheim had noted the day before that the Orange’s offense “has struggled, and that gets difficult sometimes. I don’t like to watch it sometimes.”
Then again, most observers had predicted that Syracuse — which had been 20-13, with an 8-10 conference record — would miss the N.C.A.A. tournament altogether. Instead the Orange were given the final at-large bid. They won a play-in game against Arizona State, then defeated sixth-seeded Texas Christian and third-seeded Michigan State, the zone confounding one of college basketball’s best teams.
Krzyzewski learned the defense while Boeheim served as his Team U.S.A. assistant for a decade, and he deployed it at Duke in 2015 when a young team, dominated by three freshmen, won his and the Blue Devils’ fifth national championship. His team this season is even younger than the 2015 version: The starting five consists of Allen and four freshmen likely to enter the N.B.A. draft in June.
The game opened up in the second half. While Duke led by 9 with less than five minutes left, Syracuse hoisted itself back into the game and trailed by just 3 with a minute to go. Though the game seesawed from there, Duke made most of its free throws down the stretch. In the end, the Blue Devils’ 75 percent success rate from the charity stripe in the second half may have been their statistical bright spot.