Grayson Allen said before Wednesday's game against Evansville that making a commitment to team defense was all that was keeping Duke from being a dominant team.
The Blue Devils followed up on that statement by providing a glimpse of what they're capable of when they apply consistent pressure on the defensive end.
No. 4 Duke went on a 42-3 run spanning more than 13 minutes across both halves and cruised to a 104-40 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, showing no signs of rust after a loss at Boston College and an 11-day exam break. The Blue Devils opened up their lead with the help of a season-high 39 points off turnovers, as they pressured the Purple Aces full-court and were rewarded with several steals and easy layups or transition 3-pointers.
"That was our best day of team defense we’ve had," Allen said. "It has to be something we do all the time—tired, full of energy, on an offensive run or not, we have to play defense like that all the time.... We did a tremendous job especially in that first half of just making them take tough shots and then rebounding and running."
With the win, Duke wrapped up an unbeaten home nonconference slate for the 18th straight season and was never challenged at Cameron Indoor Stadium this fall. Its nonconference home winning streak will sit at 139 games entering the 2018-19 season.
After Evansville (10-3) knocked down a jumper with 11:02 left in the first half to pull within 12 points at 27-15, the Blue Devils seized control with their most dominant extended run of the season. Wendell Carter Jr. stepped into a 3-pointer off an assist from Gary Trent Jr., one of his four made 3-pointers of the night, and Duke was clicking on both ends for the rest of the first half and most of the second.
"I thought after the first one, they would respect me a little bit, but I just had to keep on doing it," Carter said.
The Blue Devils (12-1) shot a blistering 16-of-26 from long distance, moving the ball around the perimeter to consistently find open men. Duke had 32 assists on its 39 made baskets, nearly matching the program record of 34 assists it set two weeks ago against St. Francis.
The most impressive dish came five minutes into the second half, when Marques Bolden swatted an Evansville shot into the arms of point guard Trevon Duval, who spun and fired a long outlet pass to Alex O'Connell in stride for a one-handed dunk. The play put Duke in front 78-21 for its biggest lead of the night, and Carter was outscoring the Purple Aces at the time with 25 points.
"We’re all capable of being really good passers and being smart players," Duval said. "It’s always fun being in Cameron like that, making big plays, making highlight plays."
Carter finished with a career-high 27 to lead all scorers, and Trent, Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen all added at least 13 points.
Evansville—which plays at the 10th-slowest pace in the nation and came to Durham without its two leading scorers due to injury—never got used to Duke's length and athleticism, with most of its possessions ending in turnovers or forced shots as the shot clock expired.
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"The stretch we had was uncommon. It takes its toll, so there’s going to be inconsistency," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We had some good practices, so we looked better defensively.... I’m most impressed with how we shared it and how we defended it."
Sophomore Javin DeLaurier sat out with a tight hamstring and freshman Jordan Tucker also was not in uniform for undisclosed reasons, but Krzyzewski expects DeLaurier back on the floor when the Blue Devils face Florida State at Cameron Dec. 30 in their ACC home opener.
"If we had to push it tonight, I think Javin might have played, but there was no sense in doing that, because then we might have long-term stuff," Krzyzewski said.
Duke's players will now have a few days off to go home and see their families for the holidays before returning for practice the day after Christmas to prepare for the rest of its conference schedule.
"We cannot be satisfied with this. We still have not won a conference game yet," Bagley said. "That’s how I see it, and that’s my motivation, and I think that’s the rest of the team’s motivation is to get our first conference win."