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Duke's man-to-man defense silences nation's highest-scoring team during comeback

Duke contained Florida's guards and held the Gators to just 10 points in the last 10 minutes.
Duke contained Florida's guards and held the Gators to just 10 points in the last 10 minutes.

PORTLAND, Ore.—For most of the PK80 Invitational, Florida was lights-out beyond the arc. But in the second half against the Blue Devils, it went ice cold. 

After their thrilling double-overtime victory against Gonzaga, the Gators continued their strong 3-point shooting in the first half against Duke. Their 7-of-13 shooting from distance in the first 20 minutes helped Florida build a 15-point lead six minutes into the game and reestablish a 53-49 halftime advantage after the Blue Devils went on a late run. In the second half, however, the Gators went 1-for-7, as Duke rallied from a 17-point deficit for an 87-84 victory.

The Blue Devils had brief success defending Florida with a 2-3 zone as they went on a 20-4 run late in the first half. But the Gators recovered and ended the half with a run of their own. 

To open the second half, Duke committed to man-to-man defense. 

“We went man in the second half. We had to make up our minds to lock up on defense,” freshman Marvin Bagley III said. “We let them get easy shots in the first half. They can really shoot the ball from the three. We had to find a different way to lock in on defense and stop those threes and easy drives.”

The strong one-on-one defensive play of Bagley and freshmen Wendell Carter Jr. on the inside helped Duke maintain its man-to-man on the perimeter without needing to help off Florida's shooters, and when the Gators' guards had to put the ball on the floor, they struggled to shoot over Duke’s big men and had their pockets picked twice in the last 90 seconds. 

Bagley and Carter finished with 16 defensive rebounds and two blocks between them. Although he struggled offensively for most of the game, Carter came up with a block at the 3:25 mark that eventually led to an Allen triple, bringing Duke within three. 

“When Wendell came back in the second half, he did a good job of protecting the rim,” senior guard Grayson Allen said. “He blocked a few shots but he also altered a few shots, and he was there—I think that was huge, just his presence.”

Both teams’ 3-point shooting slowed down in the second half, with the Blue Devils going from 8-for-17 in the first half to 2-for-6 in the second, just as Florida went from 7-for-13 to 1-for-7. But this shift away from the perimeter played to Duke’s strengths. 

Entering the game, many expected it to be a battle of Florida’s guards on the perimeter versus Bagley and Carter on the inside. With both teams shooting fewer 3-pointers in the second half, the two freshmen were able to make their mark on the game, scoring 16 of their combined 36 points in the last nine minutes. 

In addition to their strong play on the inside, Duke unexpectedly made two more triples than the Gators did overall. This allowed the Blue Devils to beat Florida not only on the inside, where Duke was expected to dominate, but also on the outside. 

After the Gators shot 32-of-58 from deep in their first two games of the tournament, the Blue Devils rarely let them spot up in rhythm on the arc and forced them to miss their last five attempts. Florida's highest-scoring offense in the nation scored on just one of its last eight possessions.

Offensively for Duke, Allen recovered from his 3-point shooting slump and went 4-of-8 from deep against Florida, including a 3-pointer in the first half that gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game. Gary Trent Jr. also improved from downtown, making three 3-pointers in a 90-second span despite having gone 1-of-11 in Duke's first two games in Portland.

“We played great defense in the second half—they only hit one three,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I can’t believe we hit more threes than they did.”


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