Blue Devil defense grounds Eagles, helps offense take flight

<p>The Blue Devils forced 16 Eagle turnovers and turned them into 22 points, a big key to Saturday's road win.</p>

The Blue Devils forced 16 Eagle turnovers and turned them into 22 points, a big key to Saturday's road win.

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Through the nonconference portion of Duke’s schedule, the offense was the shining star—its 88.9 points per game ranked second in the nation, and the Blue Devils owned the country’s top mark in adjusted offensive efficiency.

The offense was scorching hot as the Blue Devils closed out 2015 with back-to-back 100-point performances against Elon and Long Beach State. Duke eclipsed 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in both games—and after a combined 10 double-digit scoring efforts, the Blue Devils’ high-octane offense appeared to be operating in peak form heading into Saturday’s conference opener at Boston College.

When the final buzzer sounded at the Conte Forum, Duke had once again cleared the 50 percent threshold from the field. But it certainly was not as easy as it seemed, and this time, it was the Blue Devils’ defensive efforts that carried the team to a win against the Eagles.

Duke seemed out of sorts in the early going against the Boston College zone and found itself trailing right from the opening tip. The Blue Devils connected on just two of their first nine field goal attempts and missed five straight from deep to open the game, despite no shortage of open looks.

“I think towards the beginning of the game, we were a little timid,” freshman Luke Kennard said. “[We were] a little tight with the way we were playing. I think we kind of worked out of that, that tightness that we had.”

Junior captain Matt Jones finally broke through with a much-needed triple, knocking one down from the wing to bring Duke to within a single point at 12-11 more than eight minutes into the game. Then Grayson Allen—who finished with 17 points on just eight field goal attempts—picked Boston College’s pocket on the next possession and stormed downcourt for a resounding dunk that gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the day—one they would never relinquish.

To punctuate the gutsy run, Jones made one of the hallmark hustle plays that has made him a favorite of head coach Mike Krzyzewski. The DeSoto, Texas, native threw his body to the floor and dove across midcourt during a moment of confusion for the Eagles’ offense, nudging the ball forward just enough to guide it to Allen, who had another clear path to the basket to complete a 7-0 run. In just 38 seconds, the tide of the game had turned

“Defense was better today,” Jones said. “It was huge to be able to see the ball go in the basket, a couple of dunks, a couple layups. And then things got going, and I feel like our defense really got us in a groove on the offensive end. Guys got confident on that end, as well. We know we need defense to win, so to play defense like we did today was really good.”

The Blue Devils continued to hound Boston College with a mix of zone and man schemes, limiting the Eagles to just 36 percent shooting in the first half. As its offense struggled to get going, the Duke defense kept the Blue Devils close and gave the offense time to get on track.

In the second half, the Blue Devils again let their defense feed their offense and finished with 10 steals on the afternoon. Duke forced the Eagles into 16 turnovers—one-third more than their season average—that led to 22 critical points on the other end.

With 8:26 left to play, what looked like an easy victory was starting to get a little too close for comfort for the Blue Devils. Boston College mounted a 10-0 run to draw within 11, and Duke—which had four players play at least 34 minutes and was playing its third game in six days—started to show signs of fatigue.

But once again, the Blue Devils relied on their defense in a key spot. Once again, it was Allen coming up with the steal and driving hard on the other end, this time finishing through contact for an and-one lay-up that put to rest any notions of an Eagle comeback.

“I think it was down to [11] in the second half, he got a steal where he just…the kid went for it hard, but Grayson just got it and he got that 3-point play,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s tough like that—such a unique, good player.”

As Duke moves forward in conference play and continues to adjust to playing without senior captain and defensive centerpiece Amile Jefferson, its ability to win on the strength of its defense will certainly come in handy. The ACC is home to six other offenses that reside in the top 17 in adjusted offensive efficiency, meaning the Blue Devils will need to force stops instead of just outscoring every team it comes across.

Following a game in which Duke allowed Long Beach State to shoot 47 percent from the field and 50 percent from downtown, the effort on the defensive end was a welcome sight for Krzyzewski.

“I didn’t think we played any defense against Long Beach State. Today, I thought overall we played well defensively until the last five minutes—then we stopped doing what we had been doing the whole game,” he said. “I thought we were tired. They executed well and there was a sense of urgency on their part to attack us, maybe even harder. Overall, we did well defensively today.”


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