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Offense still finding its way without Irving

It’s hard to be dissatisfied with Duke’s offense when it scores 92 points in a road victory against ACC foe N.C. State. Yet, throughout much of Wednesday’s game the Blue Devil offense continued its inconsistent play of late, relying too heavily on 3-point shooting.

Entering its matchup with the Wolfpack, Duke had averaged 25 attempts from 3-point range over its last three games, converting a lowly 29 percent of those shots. The tides seemed to have finally turned for the Blue Devil snipers when Ryan Kelly nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing 25 seconds into the game, but Duke’s outside shooters soon started drawing iron, notably during a 16-minute drought spanning halftime. Duke, however, managed to finish the game going 7-for-23 from beyond the arc, thanks in large part to Kelly, freshman Tyler Thornton and sophomore Seth Curry, who combined to go 4-for-5.

While Duke again struggled with outside shooting, the Blue Devil forwards fought to extend plays against an undersized N.C. State frontcourt, as they grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.

“If they play good [defense] and get you to miss a shot it doesn’t matter if you’re cleaning up on the boards,” Mason Plumlee said. “We’ve got to make it a habit.”

After the Wolfpack opened the second half on a 9-2 run, Duke’s comfortable halftime lead fell to 44-37. As the offense struggled to convert, the Blue Devils turned to veterans Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler to carry the scoring load. Smith grabbed control of the attack from the point guard position and consistently knifed through the N.C. State defense. Exploiting the Wolfpack’s inconsistency guarding the pick-and-roll, Smith shot 5-for-10 in the second half and added four assists.

“I was finding areas that were open and just staying in attack mode,” Smith said.

Even though fellow senior Singler shot a dismal 6-for-18 from the field, Duke benefited from his smooth 3-point stroke to separate itself from the Wolfpack. After sophomore Scott Wood drained a trey that pulled N.C. State within eight with 5:29 remaining in the second half, Singler sunk a deep three off an assist from Mason Plumlee.

“Kyle’s an All-American,” Smith said. “If he’s 0-for-30 in a game, expect him to make big shots when you need him to. He never thinks about the missed shots.”

Despite their improved play in the second half, it is obvious that the Blue Devils continue to search for their offensive identity in the wake of freshman Kyrie Irving’s toe injury. The 92 points scored against the Wolfpack are 6.5 points above Duke’s season average, but the 1:1 assist to turnover ratio (11 assists, 11 turnovers) shows considerable room for improvement.

“We would like to have around 20 assists a game and single digit turnovers,” Singler said. “That’s a facet of the game that we really need to improve on.”

Although the Blue Devils continue to struggle with their outside shooting, head coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed that his team still has room to grow without Irving.

“They’re learning their role,” Krzyzewski said. “These are games that a lot of teams played in November and December. We come into the ACC with a really good record but this team wasn’t the team that beat good [non-conference] teams. This team wasn’t the team that was in those situations.”

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