It was two in, two out for the Blue Devils Saturday afternoon.
With guards Frank Jackson and Grayson Allen sidelined, freshmen forwards Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their long-awaited debuts as No. 5 Duke cruised to a 94-55 victory against Maine at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although the five-star prospects struggled to find their footing early, the Blue Devils had no problem putting away the Black Bears after halftime.
Sophomore guard Luke Kennard led the way with 20 first-half points en route to a career-high 35—the most points by a Duke player since Ryan Kelly’s 36 against Miami in 2013. Graduate student forward Amile Jefferson chipped in a career-high 20 points and nine boards of his own.
“I knew that a couple of guys had to pick up the scoring a little bit,” Kennard said. “We took shots, we shot our bullets and that’s what we needed to do.”
But unlike the best performance of the sophomore’s career, the freshman duo’s first game did not go as planned.
After posting 10 points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes, Tatum fell to the ground, grabbing his right leg with a cramp early in the second half.
“I just caught a cramp. The game was intense,” Tatum said. “It wasn’t my foot. My foot feels great. It was just my calf. It got tight. I hadn’t played in a while.”
The St. Louis native remained on the bench for the rest of the evening as his first-year counterpart failed to find a rhythm for much of the game. Bolden did, however, turn it on late, finishing with seven points and five boards in 12 minutes before leaving at the 13-minute mark of the second half.
Fortunately for the Blue Devils, Kennard made the game easy for his teammates. The Franklin, Ohio, native went 11-of-16 from the field and nailed 4-of-9 triples to go along with eight rebounds in the best game of his career.
It was not until more than midway through the first half that Duke (8-1) began to pull away from Maine, using a 9-0 run to go ahead by 14 points at intermission. The Black Bears kept it close for a majority of the first 20 minutes though, as junior forward Ilker Er racked up 20 of Maine’s 32 first-half points.
The Istanbul, Turkey, native drained four 3-pointers, hit on 8-of-13 field goal attempts and added five rebounds, allowing the Black Bears to hang around. But Kennard swished a running 3-point attempt at the buzzer, giving his Blue Devils momentum headed into the locker room.
“We started a little slow. We gave up some shots that we shouldn’t have given up,” Kennard said. “We didn’t play our kind of defense that we’re usually playing and offensively, I don’t we think we shared the ball as well as we should have, especially in the first half.”
With a 26-4 run in a nine-minute span in the second half, Duke stretched a 14-point halftime advantage to put the game out of reach. The Blue Devils’ length took Maine (2-6) out of its offense, as Er was held scoreless after halftime and the Black Bears suffered through several lengthy scoring droughts.
Duke smothered Maine in the second half, as the Black Bears scored just 23 points on 9-of-34 shooting from the field.
Instead of the four-guard lineups that Duke has featured throughout much of its first eight games, the Blue Devils started three forwards against Maine, with Tatum and Jefferson playing alongside sophomore Chase Jeter. Duke dominated the visitors on the glass, outrebounding the Black Bears 49-22, and the Blue Devils tallied 44 points in the paint.
Jefferson’s 20-point, nine-rebound outing left the Philadelphia native just one board short of his fifth double-double so far this season.
“For us, it’s just about playing hard,” Jefferson said. “If we play hard, all the other pieces will fall into place…. We’re starting to put together the steps to become who we should be.”
After utilizing just a six-man rotation against Michigan State Tuesday night, Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski used nine players against Maine while still allowing Allen a day off to recover from a nagging toe injury that has kept the junior from playing at full strength.
Sophomore big man Antonio Vrankovic was among the beneficiaries, posting eight points and three boards off the bench.
“Grayson needs more than one game out, but hopefully he’ll be ready by Tuesday,” Krzyzewski said, noting that Allen is dealing with a form of turf toe. “We think [Frank] will be ready to go for Tuesday—[he has] a little bit of a sore foot. He’s played an unbelievable amount of minutes.”
Duke will return to action Tuesday night when the Blue Devils travel to Madison Square Garden in New York for a matchup against No. 24 Florida in the Jimmy V Classic.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."