On a late November night with the season not even 10 games old, one play Wednesday conjured memories of his most recent national championship to Mike Krzyzewski’s mind. 

With less than eight minutes left and the Hoosiers in front 69-68, sophomore Marques Bolden picked up Indiana guard Aljami Durham on the perimeter and poked the ball away. Instead of letting Indiana retain possession, the center put his body on the floor and dove past Durham to come up with the rock before drawing a foul and heading to the free-throw line. 

Suddenly, a lethargic Blue Devil team got the boost it needed to pull away down the stretch from the pesky Hoosiers at a raucous Assembly Hall in a 91-81 victory. 

“Marques made the play of the game, getting that loose ball,” Krzyzewski said. “It was similar to Grayson’s loose ball in the national championship game in 2015, where he just lit a spark into the whole team. Ironically, we said at halftime, ‘If we dive for a loose ball, we’ll win.’ I wouldn’t have bet on Marques being the guy to do it, but he did.” 

Bolden’s hustle play was just one example of what it took for top-ranked Duke to remain unbeaten on a night it shot only 3-of-17 from beyond the arc. With Indiana back ahead by one just two minutes later, freshman Gary Trent Jr. followed Bolden’s lead and hit the floor to come up with a steal of his own. On a night when the freshman guard struggled with his shot and finished 2-of-9 from the floor, Trent’s play showcased the young Blue Devils’ mental toughness.  

After the Hoosiers set the tone with a scrappy first half that kept them within striking distance, the Blue Devils matched the intensity of their opponent and the crowd late to pass their final tough test of nonconference play. 

“This was the first time we’ve been tested by a purely away crowd, so we knew it was going to be a tough game,” senior Grayson Allen said. “And it’s the end of a tough stretch for us—nine games in 20 days with 10 days on the road, so we knew it was going to take a lot to come in here and win this game.” 

During certain moments in the last two weeks, the Blue Devils have looked far from the best team in the nation. Similar to in its slow starts in the PK80 Invitational, Duke suffered occasional lapses on defense Wednesday night and continued to have trouble in transition. For a good portion of the second half, Indiana sliced up the Blue Devil man-to-man scheme with ease and racked up fouls on Duke's big men.

But each time, the Blue Devils have risen to the challenge and found a way to win. Maybe the product on the floor hasn’t been pretty at times, but Duke’s unblemished 9-0 record looks just fine, especially as it continues to work through the kinks of a young team. 

“We have four freshmen out there all the time and they’re just learning how to manage a game as far as the effort and intensity,” Krzyzewski said. 

The Blue Devils appear to have the mental makeup of a team well beyond its years, and with a pair of nonconference home games before the beginning of ACC play, Duke has a chance to take a breath and assess its play. 

It’s come as no surprise that the freshman duo of Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. is a tall task to handle down low. Despite facing double-teams and fatigue after two 30-point, 15-rebound performances in Portland, Ore., Bagley posted a routine 23-point, 10-rebound statline while showcasing his vision by facilitating the Blue Devil offense out of the post. Carter’s struggles with foul trouble persisted, but the big man came up big for Duke once again with a number of finishes in the paint as the Hoosiers mounted a run. 

It’s also come as no surprise that Allen has hit big shots at pivotal moments for the Blue Devils. It may not have been a replica of his 37-point performance against Michigan State, but the senior made the shot of the game when he canned a late step back from beyond the arc to give Duke a two-possession cushion for good.  

But to reach their true potential, the Blue Devils must remain focused on cleaning up the slippage on the defensive end that has allowed teams to hang around despite Duke’s pure talent advantage 

“We just have to find a way to play lockdown defense in the beginning instead of waiting all the way till the end, where there could be a chance we might not come back,” Bagley said. “You have to start playing defense like that in the beginning of the game to get stops and make sure we get ahead.”

The Blue Devils brought a few memories of a national title run to the mind of their coach Wednesday night. As the calendar turns to December, Duke has laid the foundation to bring many more to the table as it continues to grow and develop as a unit.