Duke men's basketball takes on Yale before Thanksgiving

Blue Devils looking to get Kennard, Ingram on track

<p>Senior Amile Jefferson and the Blue Devils used a variety of defenses this weekend in two wins at Madison Square Garden, including a 1-3-1 zone with the lanky forward at the top of the zone.</p>

Senior Amile Jefferson and the Blue Devils used a variety of defenses this weekend in two wins at Madison Square Garden, including a 1-3-1 zone with the lanky forward at the top of the zone.

It’s been a very, very long time since Duke squared off against Yale.

So long, in fact, that it was someone other than Mike Krzyzewski patrolling the sidelines for the Blue Devils.

No. 6 Duke hosts the Bulldogs in its final contest before Thanksgiving Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Yale last traveled to Durham during the 1973-74 season—when Neill McGeachy was in the midst of a 10-16 campaign in his only season as the Blue Devils’ head coach—for a resounding 105-80 thumping.

This time around, though, things will look much different. Duke has Krzyzewski and his five national championship rings on the sidelines, and is coming off two victories in the 2K Classic this past weekend in New York. On the other side of the floor, James Jones—whose 234 career victories make him the winningest head coach in program history— has the Bulldogs trending in the right direction after a claiming a share of the Ivy League title for just the second time in 50 years last season.

Alhough the Blue Devils dropped one spot in the rankings from last week, they enter Wednesday’s tilt on a high note thanks to two tough wins against Virginia Commonwealth and Georgetown. Then-No. 2 Kentucky gave the young Duke squad a wakeup call Tuesday in Chicago, but the team showed a lot of growth by bouncing back and persevering through a grueling early-season stretch.

“I think we made great strides. I don’t know if another team in the country had three games like that in a span of six days—playing that tough of competition, great programs, winning programs, programs that are used to winning season-in and season-out,” senior forward Amile Jefferson said. “I thought that our team did an amazing job of fighting and learning how to fight. I thought all of our guys brought it at different times. Now we have to have everybody buy in at the same time, and that will make us a really special team.”

Due to the influx of four new freshmen on the roster, Krzyzewski is still very much tinkering with his starting lineup. The Blue Devils (4-1) used three distinct starting fives last week, rotating in freshman point guard Derryck Thornton for his first two career starts and giving sophomore Grayson Allen and freshman Brandon Ingram a rest after subpar performances.

Although Allen was the star of the weekend for Duke—his 62 total points netted him MVP honors in the 2K Classic—it was the emergence of Thornton that may have been the team’s most important takeaway. As the only true point guard on the roster, Thornton and his explosive first step off the dribble give the Blue Devil offense an extra attacking dimension and adds fluidity in a half-court setting.

The Chatsworth, Calif., native averaged 16.5 points per game and shooting 58.8 percent in New York after receiving the starting nod in both games. Thornton did not participate in as much summer practice as his other classmates due to his late reclassification, but his on-court improvement across the season’s first few weeks has been noticeable.

“It’s just a faster-paced game. Learning how to compete every time is…not difficult, but it takes a little while to learn that,” Thornton said. “You have to go through a learning curve and you have to be able to adjust, so freshmen are going through that and I feel like mine is starting to be more clear.”

Duke is still very much a team trying to figure itself out and integrate several new parts, but Yale (3-1) is a veteran-laden squad. In his 17th season in New Haven, Conn., Jones has the Bulldogs off to a quick start, with just a narrow two-point loss to Southern Methodist—a game they led—as the lone blemish on their resume.

Senior Justin Sears returns as the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year, averaging a team-high 19.3 points and 4.7 assists per game. The forward also ranks second on the team with 6.0 boards per contest and with his 6-foot-8 size could pose matchup problems for the Blue Devils anywhere on the floor.

Bulldog forward Brandon Sherrod may have the best backstory of any player to take the floor Wednesday, as the senior forward stepped away from basketball last year to travel the world with the Whiffenpoofs—one of the most distinguished a capella groups in the country. Sherrod does not appear to have missed a beat in his return, leading the team with 7.3 rebounds per game and adding 8.7 points per contest—and provides a vocal presence on the defensive end of the floor, where he leads Yale in steals.

The Bulldogs knock down 40.5 percent of their 3-point attempts, led by the starting backcourt of sophomore Makai Mason and senior Jack Montague. Yale's potent perimeter shooting could mean the Blue Devils look to mix up their defensive looks—something they did this weekend with strong success, employing a 1-3-1 zone to slow down Georgetown’s scoring attack.

“With our length and our athleticism, I think we have guys that can play a lot of different places so it helps us do a lot of different things on the court. [The] 1-3-1 helped us this weekend,” Jefferson said. “Each team is going to be different and we’re going to custom our defense to what we need that game, what we need that possession, what we need that five minute stretch.”

Ryan Hoerger contributed reporting.


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