Freshmen show their youth in loss to Kentucky

<p>Derryck Thornton was the first Blue Devil freshman to score Tuesday, but four turnovers helped Kentucky get out on the fast break and pad its lead.</p>

Derryck Thornton was the first Blue Devil freshman to score Tuesday, but four turnovers helped Kentucky get out on the fast break and pad its lead.


That was the key phrase swirling around the college basketball world heading into Tuesday’s highly anticipated matchup between No. 2 Kentucky and No. 5 Duke, and rightfully so. As masters of the one-and-done era, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kentucky head coach John Calipari have reeled in the No. 1 and No. 2 recruiting classes, respectively, in each of the last two seasons, and the expectation was that the cornucopia of young talent would provide the night’s highlights.

But if anything was learned from Kentucky’s fall to a veteran-laden Wisconsin squad in the Final Four a short seven months ago, it is that, sometimes, even the top young talent is no substitute for experience. Tuesday at the United Center, Duke’s freshmen took their lumps in their first big game on one of November basketball’s brightest stages.

“In some respects, the game was a little bit bigger for our guys than they anticipated,” Krzyzewski said. “You can’t win games unless you respond to that, and we have to learn to do that at this level.”

The young Blue Devils simply could not get hot. It took more than 17 minutes for a member of Duke’s freshman class to score. Of the four Duke newcomers ranked among the top 25 in the Class of 2015, only point guard Derryck Thornton managed to put any points on the board in the first half. 

On top of that, sophomore Grayson Allen—who became a national figure after his 16-point breakout performance in the national title game last year—could not connect in the first 20 minutes. With Allen and freshman swingman Brandon Ingram struggling, Duke had trouble scoring, unless it came off the offensive glass. Allen and Ingram entered Tuesday’s game averaging a combined 45.0 points per game—and headed to the locker room with a total of zero.

“We’re a young team and we’re still putting all the pieces together,” Allen said. “We have a lot of really good individual talent on our team, but because we’re so young we need to learn how to play together. We’re playing hard out there but we have to play hard together, not just as a bunch of individuals.”

Things did not improve much for the new Blue Devils in the final 20 minutes of the game. Ingram finished with just four points on 1-of-6 shooting from the floor. He committed four turnovers and battled through foul trouble—finishing with four personals—and secured only one rebound in his 19 minutes on the court.

Luke Kennard did not see the ball go through the basket from the floor, though he did sink both of his free throws for his two points on the night. In his four minutes of play, Chase Jeter committed three fouls and a turnover and did not score. 

Thornton had the best game among the Duke freshmen, scoring seven points, corralling three rebounds and dishing out three assists after coming off the bench. But the Chatsworth, Calif., native also committed four turnovers, some of which led to easy run-outs for the youthful Wildcat backcourt of Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe.   

And Allen? He finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting. His three rebounds and one assist were accompanied by four personal fouls and four turnovers. Duke’s most explosive driver attacked the basket the same way he did last weekend against Siena and Bryant—when he combined to score 54 points—but Kentucky’s length was waiting for him every time, ready to turn away his shot with a forceful rejection or alter his release just enough to send the ball bouncing harmlessly off the rim.

“Grayson, you know, he would tell you he didn’t play well,” Krzyzewski said. “You can’t expose the ball on a drive against shot blockers the way he did.... On the perimeter those three kids had tough nights, going 3-for-22. They’re three really good players, Grayson, Luke and Brandon.”

Luckily for Duke, the Blue Devil veterans kept their composure against a Wildcat roster loaded with talent. Senior Amile Jefferson posted his third straight double-double with 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and 15 rebounds and stayed out of foul trouble against a physical Kentucky frontcourt. Junior Matt Jones also scored 16 points—including nine from beyond the arc—after posting a career-high 19 points against Bryant. Marshall Plumlee was the hero of the first half, scoring the Blue Devils’ first nine points, securing eight rebounds and notching five blocks in the opening 20 minutes on his way to his second career double-double.

Despite the consistent play of Duke’s captains, it will take a full team effort for the Blue Devils to make it through the rest of their early-season stretch without another hiccup. Duke has just two days to recover from Tuesday’s loss before it travels to New York to take on Virginia Commonwealth in the 2K Classic benefitting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden in New York.

“We have a lot of improvement ahead of us,” Krzyzewski said. “We just have to accept that and go on.”


Share and discuss “Freshmen show their youth in loss to Kentucky” on social media.