The Duke Blue Devils went into Saturday evening’s game against the Syracuse Orange out for revenge. Syracuse had picked up an overtime win at Cameron Indoor Stadium earlier in the season, and if Duke wanted to pick up a win at the Carrier Dome, it would have to accomplish this without Zion Williamson, who missed the game as he’s working to get healthy following a knee sprain.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, their roster is filled with 4- and 5-star recruits outside of Williamson, the most notable of which is R.J. Barrett. While Williamson has become the consensus No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Barrett was the guy projected to fill that spot before the season, something he reminded everyone as the Blue Devils picked up a 75-65 win over the Orange.
Barrett had what might go down as the best game of his collegiate career. Known for his scoring acumen, the young Canadian export scored a game-high 30 points on a hyper-efficient 14-for-20 shooting from the field. He got a chance to show off his range against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, too, taking five threes and knocking down two of them. The scoring output actually set an ACC freshman record, as it was the 20th time this season Barrett dropped at least 20 points in a game this year.
At one point in the second half, Barrett even did a little Williamson impression, filling the lane on a fast break and throwing down a lob from Tre Jones.
The most impressive thing about Barrett’s night might have been the way he distributed — his seven assists were also a game-high. Barrett camped out in the middle of Syracuse’s zone and picked the Orange defense apart, whether it was with his ability to score or his ability to find his teammates and distribute the basketball.
Here’s an example of how his ability to distribute made life hell on Syracuse. Barrett got the ball on the perimeter and pretended to fire a pass to Alex O’Connell in the corner. The Orange’s defender fell for the fake completely, giving Barrett a wide open triple.
Syracuse had no answer for Barrett, something that was sorely needed. Beyond Williamson being out, Cam Reddish (five points on 2-for-11 shooting) and Jones (11 points on 2-for-12 shooting) struggled to get going from the field, meaning Duke needed someone to shoulder the load. That someone ended up being Barrett, who might have had the best game of his collegiate career at a time when the Blue Devils sorely needed it.
After the game, ESPN’s Myron Medcalf caught up with Barrett’s father, former Canadian basketball player Rowan Barrett. When asked what R.J.’s best skill is on the court, he gave an apt, one-word answer.