Dawkins has success in first game off bench

Andre Dawkins came off the bench for the first time all year, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting before leaving with back spasms.
Andre Dawkins came off the bench for the first time all year, scoring 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting before leaving with back spasms.

During their shellacking at the hands of Ohio State, at times the Blue Devils looked unorganized and unsure of their specific roles within the offense. The confusion and lack of cohesion resulted in frequent one-on-one play from Austin Rivers and an uncharacteristically high number of entry passes into the post to let Mason Plumlee play with his back to the basket. The end result was a blowout loss in Columbus.

In its first game since that humbling defeat, Duke got back to the basics offensively. Although the lineup was a little different than it had been in the eight previous contests—Andre Dawkins came off the bench for the first time this season—the players showed a newfound sense of certainty with their specific roles. Dawkins was replaced in the starting five by Tyler Thornton, giving the Blue Devils a smaller, quicker lineup.

“We keep looking for ways of getting better,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “A 23-point loss to Ohio State leads to a lot of things. It wasn’t Andre’s fault, it was our fault but you look at other [combinations]. We’re still very much a developing team. We’ve had a difficult schedule, it will continue through Washington and that’s how you learn about yourself, you have to keep adjusting.”

After Wednesday’s game, Krzyzewski would not expand on the rationale behind his lineup alteration. Regardless of whether it was meant as a wake-up call or just a function of matchups, as the swingman’s size was not needed against a small Colorado State lineup, Dawkins responded in a big way to the benching. He entered the game before the first media timeout and immediately made his presence felt with two dunks in his first four minutes on the court. Playing more passionate, energized basketball, Dawkins went for 15 points including three made 3-pointers, despite leaving the game for good after suffering from back spasms with over three minutes remaining in the first half.

The insertion of Thornton, who tallied four assists, into the lineup allowed usual starting point guard Seth Curry to spend a bit more time off of the ball. These minutes are always valuable for the junior co-captain because it gives his slight frame a break from hounding the other team’s primary ballhandler. These spells also enable him to spot up on the perimeter and make use of his lethal 3-point shot, which he is making at a 46-percent clip this season.

Freshman Quinn Cook also spent some time running the offense. Still, Curry was in charge of initiating the majority of sets in the half-court offense, where despite a tough 2-for-8 shooting night from the floor, he displayed tremendous leadership and a floor general’s mentality on his way to eight assists and just one turnover.

“That was the best passing game that I’ve seen out of him,” Rivers said. “Lots of people will look at it like ‘Seth didn’t score much tonight.’ Seth can do multiple things out there on the court and helped us win the game.”

Another area of the game where Curry excelled was with his on-ball pressure. His intensity set the tone for the Blue Devils early in the game as his consecutive steals set up Dawkins and Mason Plumlee for transition dunks. Applying extended pressure was a point of emphasis to prevent the Rams from getting into deliberate half-court sets.

“We watched a lot of film, and the teams that have played them in the past have not put enough pressure on them,” Rivers said. “Tonight, our focus was to pressure them to an extent they hadn’t seen before. We got some steals and were able to extend the lead.”

Almost lost in all of this activity was the performance of Rivers, the team’s top scorer on the season, who again led the way last night. The explosive combo guard scored 17 points on an efficient nine field goals. The freshman hoisted five treys, connecting on three, but still got into the lane and to the free throw line. Furthermore, he turned the ball over just twice and played more under control than he had in some earlier contests. This kind of maturity and balance from Duke’s best playmaker is a positive sign.

Fortunately for Duke fans, the Blue Devils were able to rid themselves of any lingering bad tastes the Buckeyes may have left in their mouths. Re-establishing their continuity on the offensive end, especially in the backcourt, was a crucial confidence builder going into Saturday’s matchup with an athletic Washington team that excels at getting teams out of their comfort zones.


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