Jayson Tatum recorded his best game in a Duke uniform, but the fifth-ranked Blue Devils were carried yet again by graduate student Amile Jefferson and sophomore Luke Kennard, who combined for 53 points in an 84-74 victory against No. 21 Florida at Madison Square Garden. At the end of a back-and-forth first half, Duke used a 15-3 run to pull away and head into halftime with a 41-31 lead. The win puts the Blue Devils at 9-1 on the season entering Saturday’s matchup at UNLV.   

Revisiting the three keys to the game:

  • Protect the basketball: Tasked with protecting the ball against a stout defense that forces almost 17 turnovers a game, the Blue Devils performed moderately well, turning the ball over 13 times. No one individual was a consistent culprit for Duke, with seven different players registering at least one giveaway. The Blue Devils forced 13 Florida turnovers and finished the night with eight steals.
  • Hit 3-pointers: Looking to improve on its 3-point field-goal percentage—the Blue Devils ranked 146th in that category entering the game—Duke shot 7-for-17 from beyond the arc against the Gators. Kennard knocked down five of his seven attempts, backing up a 35-point performance against Maine with a 29-point effort Tuesday night. Florida almost surged back into the game by hitting multiple 3-pointers late in the game and went 6-for-11 from beyond the arc, but the Blue Devils’ lead proved to be too much.
  • Crash the glass: Without Marques Bolden and Harry Giles down low to start the season, the Blue Devils still found ways to outrebound opponents consistently, and the trend continued against the Gators. Duke outrebounded Florida 35-32 thanks to Jefferson, who matched a career high with 15 boards. The Blue Devils will look to include Bolden more moving forward in order to continue their success on the glass—the freshman center played just two minutes after racking up two early fouls.

Three key stats:

  • Tatum, Kennard and Jefferson outscore Florida: The efficient trio combined for 75 of the Blue Devils' 84 points. With Grayson Allen a non-factor for much of the game—the junior captain finished with six points on 2-for-10 shooting—the responsibility fell to Jefferson and Kennard to continue what they have been doing all season. Tatum also finally had the chance to show Duke fans why there was so much anticipation surrounding his arrival in Durham. The freshman proved especially reliable down the stretch and scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, bolstered by a perfect 8-for-8 effort from the free throw line.
  • Accuracy from the field and foul line: After shooting worse than 50 percent from the field and just 70.0 percent from the foul line in a loss at Madison Square Garden against Kansas, the Blue Devils needed to convert scoring opportunities in order to defeat a ranked opponent. Tatum, Kennard, and Jefferson answered the call, leading Duke to shoot 52.5 percent from the field and 92.9 percent from the free-throw line. In stark contrast, the Gators shot just 42.6 percent from the field and a mediocre 69.6 percent from the charity stripe.
  • Four Blue Devil guards on the floor for tip-off: Kennard, Allen, Matt Jones and Frank Jackson all started for Duke, which has been sporting this guard-heavy lineup throughout the season as Giles, Tatum, and Bolden work their way back into the lineup. Tatum was the first man off the bench after he started against Maine Sunday, but he started the second half and played most of the rest of the contest as he grew more comfortable in his second career game.

Three key plays:

  • 4:34 remaining, first half: A monstrous dunk by Jefferson off an assist from Kennard gave Duke a lead it would not relinquish at 29-28 after an artful series of passing by the Blue Devils. Jefferson’s slam sparked a 15-3 run that sent Duke into halftime with a 10-point lead.
  • 17:47 remaining, second half: A slow start to the second half prompted Florida to chip away at the double-digit lead. After scoring six straight points, the Gators were down 43-37 before Grayson Allen connected on his first and only 3-pointer of the game, reversing the momentum and keeping the Duke lead secure. 
  • 8:09 remaining, second half: With the Blue Devils comfortably leading 61-48, the Gators went on another 6-0 spurt that drew the lead to within seven points. But Kennard quickly knocked down a 3-pointer off one of Allen's eight assists to put the lead back in double digits, where it would stay for most of the remainder of the game.

And the Duke game ball goes to…. Amile Jefferson 

Amile Jefferson appears unable to have a bad game. The Philadelphia native has recorded a double-double in five of his last seven contests and posted career highs with 24 points and 15 rebounds against Florida. Jefferson crashed the boards aggressively throughout the game, grabbing five offensive rebounds while also contributing four blocks for the third time this season.  

And the Florida game ball goes to…. KeVaughn Allen

Allen led the Gators with 21 points and connected on two 3-pointers late in the second half to keep Duke from pulling away. The team’s leader scorer at 12.4 points per game, Allen went 8-for-13 from the field, significantly better than the rest of his teammates, who combined to shoot just 37.5 percent from the floor.