With senior Amile Jefferson missing from the paint, the Blue Devils avoided the usual doldrums that come with mid-December basketball and proved they could win without their captain behind a balanced offensive performance.
No. 7 Duke defeated Georgia Southern 99-65 Tuesday, using a career-best 26 points from freshman Brandon Ingram and a do-everything outing by junior Matt Jones to coast to a win in its first game since Dec. 5. Making use of a seven-man rotation, five Blue Devils reached double-figures by the time the final buzzer sounded.
“We had a gameplan coming in, and we did everything we could to [execute] it,” Ingram said. “Going after balls, being aggressive, you always expect it to be in your hands. It feels great and I know it feels great for my teammates, just having confidence in me and I have confidence in them.”
Jefferson had been a Swiss Army knife in the paint for Duke early in the year, but the program announced Monday that the Philadelphia native will be lost indefinitely to a foot injury, which head coach Mike Krzyzewski described as a fractured right foot suffered in practice that will not require surgery.
Without one of their key contributors, the Blue Devils (9-1) dialed back physical contact in practice to zero and prepared for the Eagles knowing that the visitors would send bodies at Duke's remaining offensive options on both ends of the court in hopes of wearing down the likes of Ingram and sophomore Grayson Allen and potentially placing them in foul trouble.
“I’m not concerned on offense except that they’re going to go at [Ingram],” Krzyzewski said. “We’ve got slim pickings right not and we’ve got to be really careful. How we play defense will be a key so we keep our guys fresh and out of foul trouble. We don’t have that plan yet.”
In 17 minutes, freshman forward Chase Jeter contributed two points and three rebounds. With unproven talent on a youthful bench remaining, Jefferson’s absence loomed large heading into Tuesday's win, but luckily for Krzyzewski, the Blue Devils had the answer for a shifty Georgia Southern squad in the form of their standout perimeter play.
Ingram fueled Duke throughout the contest, as he collected his first double-double with a career-best 14 rebounds to go with his 26 points. After a slow start to the season, the Kinston, N.C., native has come on strong, especially in the past three games, in which he has averaged 24.3 points per contest. But the rookie was not alone, as Allen finished with 18, Jones poured in 16 and freshmen guards Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard—who made his first career start Tuesday—scored 15 and 11, respectively.
More importantly, the starting quartet of Ingram, Allen, Jones and Kennard outrebounded the Eagles, snatching 32 rebounds to Georgia Southern’s total of 29. With Jefferson's 10.3 rebounds per game on the bench and the healthy offensive interior looking young, Duke will continue to look outside for both its scoring and rebounding.
“We had to rebound better as guards. You saw a different Brandon out there—he had 14 rebounds,” Jones said. “That was a focal point for us—for guards to rebound better because I know, with Amile out, he rebounded most of the balls for us. With that missing, we had to just kind of pick up the slack.”
The Blue Devils were deadly from long range—Allen, Thornton, Ingram and Jones shot 9-of-17 from long range. Georgia Southern (3-5) arrived in Durham with capable 3-point shooters of its own, but apart from Tookie Brown’s 20-point outing, the Eagles could not keep pace.
The trio of Ingram, Jones and Allen poured in 28 points in the opening 20 minutes—two of them coming via a thunderous two-handed put-back slam by Allen—helping Duke build a 47-32 lead heading into the break. Kennard misfired on his four 3-point attempts but pieced together a personal 6-2 run against the Eagles to solidify Duke's double-digit lead in the final five minutes of the half.
“Being a shooter, being a scorer, you have to think of the next shot. My shots weren’t falling and I have to work on that,” Kennard said. “I know [the coaches] have confidence in me. If I don’t miss a shot, I have to look forward to the next play.”
Duke kept the pedal to the floor in the second half, piling up the points behind aggressive drives from Allen—who was treated briefly on the sideline for a cut near his nose—and Ingram, who threw down two electric dunks while drawing contact. The Blue Devils were the clear aggressors and finished the game with a 32-4 edge in free-throw attempts by the final buzzer, 18 of which came in the final 20 minutes.
Duke will have five days to continue crafting a new identity sans Jefferson before Saturday's clash with Utah at Madison Square Garden in New York.
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