NEW YORK – It seems Duke is leaning into the drama in these final few weeks of Mike Krzyzewski’s career.

The Blue Devils were 15.5-point favorites in their ACC Tournament quarterfinal matchup against 16-16 Syracuse. For most of the afternoon, Syracuse threatened to one-and-done the Blue Devils in this tourney. Until a few minutes remained in the game, it looked like some hangover effects from that North Carolina stunner to close out the regular season were still on Duke’s mind.

Turns out, it was just some food poisoning.

The Blue Devils got a double dagger late, thanks to a building-rocking 3-pointer courtesy of Jeremy Roach, and then a transition dunk on the ensuing possession by Mark Williams. That put Syracuse’s upset bid out of sight. Duke won 88-79. It will play Friday night in the semifinal vs. Miami after it beat Boston College 71 -69 in overtime.

“Obviously, versus North Carolina,” said Williams, “we got that feeling of knowing that there’s not a second chance of playing in Cameron again. So, I think for me, personally, that was what was going through my mind. You know , if you lose that game we’re done, not playing in the ACC Tournament again. So honestly, that was probably the biggest thing: surviving and advancing. “

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Krzyzewski revealed afterward that members of the program endured potential food poisoning in the previous 24 hours. Krzyzewski said he and assistant coach Chris Carrawell were throwing up Wednesday while starting shooting guard AJ Griffin (who played 22 minutes) was still feelings effects of illness.

“Hopefully by tomorrow we’ll be in a lot better shape,” he said.

Despite not being a vintage, dominant Duke performance, the Blue Devils’ offense was quite good. Scoring 88 (on a breezy 1.28 points per possession) is a positive sign for what could await Friday and / or Saturday. Duke’s been dominant on that end of the floor most of the season, as it ranks fifth in offensive efficiency at KenPom.com. Williams was outstanding: 15 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, three blocks. He had the best all-around game, yet Wendell Moore Jr. scored a team-high 26 points, while Roach made a career-best five 3-pointers on his way to 19 points.

But the defense? Krzyzewski’s still not happy, nor should he be. On that side of the floor, Duke has lapses where it looks out of sorts, if not glitchy.

“We’re not playing very good defense right now,” Krzyzewski said. “We did not against North Carolina and we did not in this game. And we’re missing a lot of assignments, and we fouled a lot of 3-point shooters. We fouled at least three today. And you just can’t do that. We can improve definitely on that end of the court. “

Had Duke lost this game, such a result would’ve fallen short of being disastrous – but it certainly would have been alarming heading into the NCAA Tournament. It’s conceivable Duke would have dropped to the No. 3 line, too. As things stand, Duke is comfortably headed toward a No. 2 seed.

If Syracuse doesn’t receive an NIT bid – which is unlikely at this point – its 16-17 record means this will be the first losing season under Jim Boeheim. The subplot this game was Buddy Boeheim serving a one-game suspension the ACC handed down after Cuse’s Wednesday win over Florida State after Boeheim punched FSU forward Wyatt Wilkes in the stomach.

It was a decision that overshadowed the game, to an extent. Incredibly, Boeheim’s older brother, Jimmy, scored a game-high 28 points and kept Syracuse’s push for the upset going for 35-plus minutes. Jim Boeheim – who is not retiring, as he stated one more time on Thursdsay – called the suspension wrong and called out ACC officials.

“It wasn’t handled right,” Boeheim said, alluding to how Buddy should have instead been sat for the remainder of the Florida State game. He continued to say the officials “didn’t do their job” and lamented the way his son’s college career came to a close: sitting on the bench, helplessly watching – but also cheering – his team.

For Krzyzewski, it was one last battle against his closest friend in basketball outside of the Duke program. These two have known each other for the better part of four decades. It was fitting they found a way to meet one more time before one retires and the other gives it, at least, one more season on the pine.

“We’re the best friends,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t know if there’s anybody in coaching that could be better friends with another coach in this profession than me and Jim. … So, it’s tough playing against him and we were fortunate to win today. But his team played, his team did him proud. “

Many veteran coaches will say that taking a loss shortly before heading into the postseason can be the most useful coaching tool at their disposal. You don’t want the loss, but if it happens, it becomes the biggest motivating tactic. Duke flirted with another loss today, but given the way it closed out Syracuse, it wouldn’t surprise me if this popped the Blue Devils into shape (as long as the food poisoning is fully behind them).

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