Notre Dame hit threes on its first two possessions, but from there, it was all Blue Devils.
The Texas twosome of Justise Winslow and Matt Jones combined for 36 points and the No. 4 Blue Devils used a 43-7 first-half run to crush No. 10 Notre Dame 90-60 Saturday afternoon at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although Duke was playing with just eight scholarship players for the third straight game, it shot 81 percent in the first half and went 7-of-8 from 3-point range to take complete control and make fans forget all about the departure of its old sixth man.
Since Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal Jan. 29, the Blue Devils have knocked off No. 2 Virginia on the road and dominated the Fighting Irish to get right back into the ACC regular season title race.
"That's the best half we've played this season," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Our defense sparked our offense.... We have not executed that way in a long time on both ends of the court—it was almost perfect. It was so good."
As Krzyzewski pointed out, Duke’s offensive efficiency was all set up by the Blue Devils’ suffocating man-to-man defense. Senior captain Quinn Cook hounded Notre Dame star Jerian Grant—who had 23 points and 12 assists when the Fighting Irish upset Duke in South Bend, Ind., Jan. 28—holding the 6-foot-5 guard without a field goal for the first 24 minutes of the game.
Notre Dame (21-4, 9-3 in the ACC) also had trouble dealing with aggressive traps in pick-and-roll situations.
"We did a better of job just talking and helping. We got it going and we didn't let up on the talking," Cook said. "A lot of the times when we get a lead, we don't talk as much, but we didn't do that at all [today]."
In the opening half, the most efficient offense in the nation had as many turnovers as field goals—eight. The Fighting Irish also struggled all game long at the free throw line, going just 6-of-17 in by far their worst performance of the season.
"After a loss like that, I always look at the stat sheet to make sure it only counted as one loss," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "That was a thorough beating."
Blue Devil star center Jahlil Okafor went to the bench with two fouls at the 12-minute mark in the opening period, but it didn’t matter as Duke (20-3, 7-3) went on an 18-4 run without him and eventually built a 50-24 halftime lead.
Okafor’s fellow freshman starters—Winslow and Tyus Jones—picked up the slack with the big man limited by foul trouble, combining for 18 points and eight assists in the opening period. When its leading scorer returned, though, Duke got back to feeding its big man. Okafor finished with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 10 rebounds. Jones had another strong all-around game, posting 12 points, five rebounds and seven assists.
With the Apple Valley, Minn., native attacking off the bounce to create open space for others, the Blue Devils assisted on 18 of their 31 field goals for the game. Even reserves Grayson Allen and Marshall Plumlee had strong games, building on the tone set by the starters to help Duke keep its foot on the gas by combining for seven points and five rebounds.
"[We felt like] maybe not everything is going to go right, but if something goes wrong, the next thing is going to go right," Winslow said.
The Fighting Irish fought back early in the second half, cutting the lead to 18 with 13:25 left in the game after an 11-2 run, but Winslow sparked a quick 12-0 spurt as the Blue Devils pushed the lead back to 30. The response mimicked the start of the game, when Winslow scored Duke’s first four points after the Blue Devils fell behind 6-0 in the opening minute. Duke went on to score 39 of the game’s next 46 points and build a 30-point lead in the first 15:24 of game action.
The Houston native posted his third consecutive double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds and continued to show why the Blue Devils are a different team when their swingman is in attack mode.
"He has really learned to play through his injuries—that's the sign of a guy really growing up," Krzyzewski said. "You've got to play a little bit sore, a little bit hurt without talking about it—that's what he's doing. He let his actions speak for [him]."
After its fourth top-10 win of the season, Duke will look to keep the momentum going on the road Monday against Florida State.
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