Beyond the Arc: Duke basketball vs. Pittsburgh

After head coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed the importance of building confidence with a solid performance against Pittsburgh, No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2 in the ACC) went out and exhibited just that in a 79-65 victory over the Panthers (13-6, 3-3) Monday. Although Pittsburgh was able to get to within 10 in the final five minutes of the game after being down by as many as 21, the Blue Devils were able to hit key outside shots and capitalize from the free-throw line to move earn their head coach his 999th win.

Revisiting the three keys to the game

  • Convert at the free throw line: The Blue Devils turned in a solid performance from the charity stripe going 20-of-25 and hitting key free throws down the stretch to secure the victory. Although Duke shot more from the perimeter than it has for most of the season, the Blue Devils were still able to get to the line in large part due to the difficulty Pittsburgh had guarding freshman Jahlil Okafor. It remains to be seen whether Justise Winslow—who split his two attempts at the line Monday—can improve on his 56.9 percent clip from the foul line this season, but Duke is showing signs of improvement as the year progresses in this department.
  • Communicate on defense: After playing effective zone defense in the first half against the Panthers, Duke’s defensive play began to slip after halftime. Pittsburgh was able to take advantage, scoring 40 points and hanging tight until the final minutes of the game. On the night, the Panthers shot 45 percent from the field and held a sizeable advantage in the paint against the Blue Devils. However, Duke’s ability to force turnovers and capitalize on them on offense were important in overcoming the team’s second-half defensive shortcomings.
  • Use the home-court advantage: After hearing Coach K speak on the importance of building consistent habits, the Cameron Crazies were in full effect from the get-go Monday. Pittsburgh struggled from the foul line, shooting only 8-of-12 on the night and committed numerous crowd-energizing turnovers in a decisive first half. Being in friendly confines was also beneficial for the Blue Devil offense, which had one of its best three-point shooting displays of the season. Whenever the Panthers were able to make the game close, Duke—fueled by their raucous home crowd—was able to respond with timely buckets and defensive stops.

Three key plays

  • 19:42, first half: Quinn Cook grabs his first of a career-high ten rebounds on the night. With Duke playing a new aggressive zone-defense, the senior knew the importance of chasing down long boards and preventing second-chance opportunities for the Panthers. Cook’s willingness to crash the boards for rebounds was indicative of the kind of energy needed to become a strong defensive team.
  • 1:11, first half: Winslow begins to get out of a slump with his first 3-pointer of the game. After suffering a hard fall earlier in the half, the freshman responded by knocking down a timely perimeter shot. Winslow had made just 5-of-22 shots before the triple—which stretched the Blue Devils’ lead to 15 before halftime.
  • 6:04, second half: Tyus Jones hits the dagger three-pointer to seal the deal for Duke. On a night in which Jones hit 4-of-6 shots from beyond the arc, none was bigger than this 3-pointer that gave the Blue Devils a 15-point lead with a little more than six minutes to go in the game. Unlike most of Duke’s shots from beyond the arc on the night—which were open shots off of excellent ball movement—the freshman guard connected on this shot on an isolation over Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis with the shot clock winding down.

Three key stats

  • 11-of-23 shooting from beyond the arc for the Blue Devils: Despite dominating in the paint for much of the season, Duke decided to play off of its size down low—kicking the ball to open shooters time and time again for open three-point shots. Okafor’s ability to make smart passes out of double teams led to a career-high five assists for the freshman. Guards Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyus Jones led the way with four three-pointers apiece, shooting 8-of-11 from distance combined.
  • Duke plays zone on 67 percent of Pittsburgh’s possessions: Considering head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s known for his resistance to zone defense, the Blue Devils defensive strategy may have caught some off guard. But for the second contest in the row, Duke played tough zone defense that forced the Panthers into tough long two-pointers. After playing zone just 3.7 percent of the time in the first 16 contests of the year, the changes by the 999-game winner over the past two games have cured many of the Blue Devils' defensive problems, though a lot of the decision was likely caused by the issues Louisville and Pittsburgh have from outside.
  • Only nine Duke turnovers in an efficient offensive performance: The duo of Cook and Jones allowed the Blue Devils half-court offense to excel and was a key factor in Duke’s three-point explosion Monday. By being safe with the ball, the Blue Devils maximized its offensive positions and did not allow Pittsburgh to feast on easy buckets in transition.

And the Duke game ball goes to… Tyus Jones

Whether it was earlier in the year against Michigan State and Wisconsin or Monday against Pittsburgh, it is no secret that the Blue Devils are a different team when the Apple Valley, Minn., native is playing at a high level. Jones stretched the floor with his three-point shooting abilities and made the Panthers pay for their decision to double-team Okafor in the post. Although the freshmen did turn the ball over three times in the game, he was also responsible for a couple of beautiful passes along the perimeter that set up open shooters for momentum-swinging triples.

Jones finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long range, four assists and two rebounds.

And the Pittsburgh game ball goes to … Jamel Artis

The forward single-handedly kept Pittsburgh in the game with a career-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and 6-of-7 shooting from the foul line. Averaging just 9.9 points entering the contest, the Baltimore native took advantage of the Blue Devils’ zone defense by connecting on long two-point baskets and taking the ball into the paint whenever space was given. Artis was also a force on the boards—collecting four of six total rebounds on the offensive side of the ball in the loss. He also had four assists and helped spark Pittsburgh's encouraging second-half effort after a rough first 20 minutes on the road.

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