Duke men's basketball hits Madison Square Garden for 2K Classic

<p>Senior Amile Jefferson will look to extend his season-opening&nbsp;double-double streak to four Friday night against Virginia Commonwealth.</p>

Senior Amile Jefferson will look to extend his season-opening double-double streak to four Friday night against Virginia Commonwealth.

Sometimes, a team has to be punched in the mouth and knocked down to see what it is made of.

The Blue Devils were knocked down Tuesday night in Chicago—now it’s up to them to see if they can pick themselves back up.

After suffering a convincing 74-63 defeat at the hands of No. 2 Kentucky, No. 5 Duke will travel to New York for the second leg of the 2K Classic benefitting Wounded Warrior Classic this weekend. The Blue Devils take on Virginia Commonwealth Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden and wrap up their grueling five-games-in-10-days stretch against either Wisconsin or Georgetown Sunday afternoon.

Although the final margin against the Wildcats was only 11, Duke was rarely within single-digits in the second half and never put what head coach Mike Krzyzewski called “game pressure” on Kentucky. Krzyzewski’s young squad will have to try and view the jolting loss as a growth opportunity, and quickly put their mistakes in the rearview mirror.

“Well if you could, you’d like to learn from your wins and not have to face a loss like this,” sophomore guard Grayson Allen said after Tuesday’s game. “For us, it was great to have the challenge of playing against a great team, a great defensive team, a very talented team. This is something we can learn from and take with us as the season moves on.”

The Blue Devils (2-1) will have their first chance to get back on a winning streak against the Rams (2-0), who lost an epic overtime matchup to 10th-seeded Ohio State in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Although Shaka Smart now mans the sidelines at Texas, Virginia Commonwealth’s former head coach still has his fingerprints all over the program, and the Rams play an aggressive style of defense that is sure to pressure Duke’s inexperienced ball-handlers. Virginia Commonwealth has forced 42 turnovers through two games this season and will certainly look to capitalize on a Blue Devil offense that coughed it up 16 times against Kentucky, leading to 17 points for the Wildcats.

“You can’t give points away,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday. “Seventeen points and we were never able to put game pressure on them, including the way we ended the [first] half, which was ridiculously bad. Again, you keep giving gifts and they were well-received and well taken care of.”

The Rams have had to replace do-it-all guard Treveon Graham, who led the team with 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game as a senior last year. Senior Melvin Johnson—a native of the Bronx, N.Y., who will be playing not far from home this weekend—is the Rams’ leading returning scorer and has shouldered the offensive load thus far, pacing the team in scoring in both victories with a total of 37 points.

Sunday’s contest could prove to be a rematch of April’s national championship game, although the teams on the floor will look very different. After losing National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky as well as key offensive contributors Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser, Wisconsin (2-1) has struggled out of the gates this season. The Badgers dropped their season opener at home to Western Illinois—which was coming off an 8-20 record a year ago—at home and were outscored by nine in the second half.

The biggest weakness for head coach Bo Ryan’s squad—always known for its smooth offensive system—has been on the defensive end of the court, where opponents have hit 46.8 percent of their attempts from the floor and nearly 45 percent from deep. That could bode well for a Blue Devil squad that expects to get most of its scoring from the perimeter, despite a combined 3-for-22 shooting night from Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard Tuesday.

“We have five really good perimeter players and you should just be strong with the ball. Some of the turnovers were after we initiated the offense and had to make a play and we were not strong with the ball,” Krzyzewski said. “I think all basketball, if you have good guards, you have a chance to win.”

Wisconsin will face off Friday night against the Hoyas, who have had an even rougher go of it in the young season. Georgetown (0-2) dropped a thrilling double-overtime game to Radford in its season opener thanks to a go-ahead 3-pointer by Rashun Davis in the closing seconds, and held its own with No. 3 Maryland before eventually falling by four Tuesday.

The Hoyas lean heavily on senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, a two-time All-Big East selection who led the team with 16.3 points per game last year. Seven foot senior Bradley Hayes has stepped in nicely for the departed Joshua Smith at center, averaging a double-double through two games.

Georgetown could prove to be a very dangerous squad if sophomores Isaac Copeland and L.J. Peak build off promising freshman campaigns—and so far the duo has produced, averaging more than 20 points per game combined.

But for the Blue Devils, this weekend will be less about who they play and more about how they play. Replacing four starters with a combination of four freshmen and four returning players who have previously served as role players is sure to provide its bumps in the road, but Duke is placing an emphasis on progressing and moving on from Tuesday’s defeat.

“For us as a program, we have to be all about the next play. We have to learn from the game tonight and take feedback and improve and be all about the next game,” Allen said. “I think that’s something we’ll get a lot better at as the season goes on. We’re a young team, we’re still putting all the pieces together.”

Meredith Cash contributed reporting.


Share and discuss “Duke men's basketball hits Madison Square Garden for 2K Classic” on social media.