BROOKLYN, NY – The December version of Wendell Moore Jr. showed up on Thursday, and Duke basketball needed every bit of it to sneak past a spunky Syracuse squad in the ACC Tournament.

Moore, the Blue Devils’ junior forward and team captain, poured in a career-high 26 points to lead top-seeded Duke past ninth-seeded Syracuse, 88-79, and send his team to Friday’s tournament semifinals.

Maybe the efficiency wasn’t there – Moore shot 9-for-20 from the field and 4-for-10 on 3-pointers – but everything else was. Eight assists. Two clutch free throws. A single turnover across 39 minutes.

Plus-minus isn’t basketball’s most bulletproof statistic, but Duke’s +14 advantage with Moore on the floor certainly passed the smell test, a metric reminiscent of the potent non-conference stretch that had the junior trending toward an “All-American year, ”As coach Mike Krzyzewski described it in December.

“Wendell really led us,” Krzyzewski said Thursday.

Live from New York:Coverage from the ACC men’s basketball tournament in Brooklyn

Duke's Wendell Moore Jr.  (0) shoots against Syracuse's Cole Swider (21) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game during quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference men's tournament, Thursday, March 10, 2022, in New York.

Moore executed a clean split with 13 points in each half against Syracuse, and his offensive fearlessness was especially crucial given that freshman forward AJ Griffin, fresh off a food poisoning bout, almost didn’t play and freshman forward Paolo Banchero, despite some solid final stats, disappeared at times.

Syracuse, playing without first-team All ACC pick and leading scorer Buddy Boeheim, led 40-36 at halftime and extended its lead to 52-45 early in the second half. Duke clawed back then found itself in a back-and-forth Barclays Center affair, two desperate teams alternating tough bucket after tough bucket.

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