Tuesday, Luke Kennard found himself replaced in the starting lineup by Derryck Thornton and saw only 15 minutes of action—his lowest figure since early December.
Kennard came off the bench again Saturday—but this time, the results were much better.
Led by Kennard’s 26 points and 6-of-11 shooting from beyond the arc, Duke fended off N.C. State 88-80 Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Grayson Allen followed up his 27-point performance in Tuesday’s win against Georgia Tech with 28 more against the Wolfpack—including a perfect 12-of-12 effort from the free-throw line—helping the Blue Devils pick up back-to-back victories for the first time in a month.
“I think we saw the Luke that we all know and love,” center Marshall Plumlee said. “He’s capable of doing those things night in and night out and it’s really exciting when he does it. I couldn’t be more proud of his performance, and it doesn’t surprise me. I think he’s capable of even greater things. Cameron Crazies are in for a treat when it comes to Luke Kennard.”
After trailing by six at halftime, the Wolfpack (12-12, 2-9 in the ACC) regained the lead four minutes into the second half thanks to an alley-oop from Anthony “Cat” Barber to forward Abdul-Malik Abu. The Blue Devils answered right back, though, with a triple from Kennard that sparked an 18-4 run. Kennard accounted for 11 points—three 3-pointers and a layup—during the six-minute stretch, and the Duke defense clamped down to limit N.C. State to just 1-of-11 shooting as the Blue Devils extended their advantage to 13.
But the Wolfpack would not go away quietly, responding with an 11-2 run that cut the Duke edge to just four points with seven minutes remaining. From there, the Blue Devils (17-6, 6-4) calmly made 12 of their next 13 from the free-throw line to help stave off an aggressive Wolfpack team that got itself into the bonus with five minutes remaining.
Duke’s halfcourt offense consisted of driving and drawing contact for much of the second half—the Blue Devils went more than seven minutes without making a field goal yet continued to nurse their lead from the charity stripe.
With head coach Mike Krzyzewski back on the sidelines Saturday after missing the team’s trip to Atlanta earlier this week, Kennard provided a huge spark off the bench for the Blue Devils. He helped make N.C. State pay for switching to a zone defense at times, connecting on 3-of-4 3-point attempts to pile up 11 points by halftime.
“We knew that they played zone some—we didn’t know whether they were going to play man or a zone tonight,” Kennard said. “We knew that once they did, that was a spot I should be in to knock down some shots. I think it was pretty much the same spot that I hit all three in a row from.”
Barber—the ACC’s leading scorer at 23.4 points per game—entered Saturday on a scoring tear, having poured in at least 30 points in four of his last five contests. But Duke’s man-to-man defense, with point guard Derryck Thornton drawing the main assignment, did not allow Barber to notch a field goal until nearly 15 minutes had ticked off the clock. Then Barber started to find his groove, finishing with nine points in the final minutes of the first half as the Wolfpack remained within striking distance.
But as the Blue Devils switched to a rotation of zone schemes in the second half—employing a mix of 1-3-1, 2-3 and full-court pressure—Barber started to heat up again. After freshman Maverick Rowan carried the N.C. State offense for most of the game—knocking down 6-of-13 shots en route to 17 points—Barber came on strong late in the second half, desperately trying to bring the Wolfpack back. He posted 17 points in the second half and 26 overall.
“I really got after [Barber], I tried to turn him as much as possible and make him feel my presence,” Thornton said. “A lot of players I saw, whenever they where pressuring him, allowed him freedom of movement, so I tried to cut that off, and really make him feel my presence.”
The Blue Devils survived a scary moment midway through the first half, when Allen slid while driving to the hoop and laid on the ground in pain. Allen was clutching his right ankle and limped noticeably as he walked off the court, but returned a minute later. The Jacksonville, Fla., native showed no ill-effects of the hampered ankle for the rest of the game, and converted a pair of free throws on his first possession upon re-entry.
“When Grayson got fouled, it was not intentional and I thought my knee should go out right now, because it ain’t going to be good for the rest of the year if he’s out now,” Krzyzewski said. “But thank goodness he’s okay, and I’m a little concerned right now.”
Duke has little time to recuperate, and is back on the court at Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday at 7 p.m. to take on No. 19 Louisville, which just self-imposed a postseason ban for the current season.
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