NEW YORK — The Blue Devil backcourt put on a show Saturday night in Madison Square Garden with a 76-41 blowout of No. 15 Gonzaga.
Senior John Scheyer and junior Nolan Smith scored 20 and 24 points, respectively, as they fed off each other’s energy throughout the game.
“Jon and I have great chemistry on the court and off the court,” Smith said. “All week in practice we worked on playing better together, and today we really did that.”
Their fluid teamwork is represented by the number of assists that both Scheyer and Smith had to one another. Scheyer assisted on six of Smith’s 13 field goals and Smith fed Scheyer for two of his seven.
The explosive guard duo led the Duke offense in both halves, though in a different style in each period.
In the first 20minutes of play the No. 7 Blue Devils failed to hit a 3-pointer, and instead relied on inside drives and pull-up jump shots. With this method of play, Scheyer drew four fouls and hit eight of his nine free throws, ultimately finishing with 14 points in the first half. Smith also excelled early, totaling nine points in the opening half.
“We continued to take what they gave us, run our offense and play together,” Smith said. “We started to drive and kick and the shots were still there and they started to fall.”
The tone changed in the second half, however, as Smith drained a three just 40 seconds after halftime. He continued to be outstanding from behind the arc, ending with three baskets from deep on the night. Scheyer added two more to the Blue Devil’s 3-point tally.
“Nolan is a natural scorer,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Nolan is a little bit more comfortable in that scoring role but we try to alternate him and Scheyer bringing the ball up so we don't wear out either one of them."
Smith paired his offensive outburst with a stringent defensive performance. Along with junior Kyle Singler, he held the Bulldogs' premier scorer, Matt Bouldin, to just four points. Bouldin had been averaging 16.8 points per game before matching up against the Blue Devils.
“This year, defensively the mindset is a lot tougher than my first two years here,” Smith said. “This team takes a lot of pride in stopping great teams like Gonzaga. The defensive effort we put out today really shows the amount of effort we put in and how hard we practice.”
Duke’s big men also put forth an outstanding defensive effort, as they were just simply more physical than the Bulldogs. This is evident with the rebounding statistics for both teams, a category that the Blue Devils dominated.
Singler tallied 11 rebounds on the night, barely edging out senior teammate Lance Thomas, who finished with nine. As a team, Duke overwhelmed Gonzaga on the glass, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 45-35.
"[Thomas] played a great game today," Krzyzewski said. "Our veteran guys, they just know how to play.”
The Duke defense stifled the previously explosive Gonzaga offense—every shot was contested, every rebound was fought for. Shooting just 28 percent from the field, the Bulldogs didn’t stand a chance against a Blue Devil team that was clicking on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
"I thought we got throttled in every aspect of basketball,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “Their physical play bothered us as far as finishing shots around the rim. They out-rebounded us and we turned the ball over. They made more free throws than us. It was an old fashioned, take you out to the woodshed and beat you down."
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