For nearly a half-hour of game time Monday night, the Fighting Irish hung around, just hoping for a chance to claw back in front. And with Duke's lead down to just a half-dozen midway through the second half, the door remained open for a comeback.
Although Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said Trevon Duval was the guy his team wanted taking a shot at that point, he probably didn't want the freshman point guard to drill what would wind up as the night's most crucial bucket—a lengthy triple that sparked the Blue Devils' dominant 28-4 run.
"Honestly, I love the fact that teams want me to take that shot because it’s the shot I’ve been working on," Duval said. "I’m very confident and I believe it’s going to go in every time, and I think my teammates and my coaches do, too."
Confidence isn't necessarily a word that would have described Duval's 3-point shot at the start of conference play, though. He shot just 2-of-12 from long distance in Duke's first trio of ACC contests, and before that, Duval made just five in all of nonconference play.
With a breakout performance at Pittsburgh and steadiness in the last few weeks, though, the rookie has become more effective and efficient from beyond the arc, only adding to the Blue Devils' deep offensive arsenal.
"That was a big moment for him for him to have the confidence to [take that shot], and it was all net," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "You can see how our guys understand things that different guys are trying to get through and how they responded when he hit that. It meant more than three points, although three points were nice. It meant even more for our team, and that’s part of growing up."
For a 19-year-old in just his 22nd collegiate game, the night was not without its growing pains.
Duval struggled early, scoring just four first-half points while also committing a pair of turnovers and collecting two fouls. As a result, he played just 14 minutes, with the offense running through backcourt mates Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr.
But after intermission, it seemed as if a switch flipped.
The Blue Devils' first points of the second half came on a gorgeous dime, as Duval lobbed an alley-oop pass to Marvin Bagley III at the rim. The next possession, Duval stripped the ball from his former AAU teammate T.J. Gibbs, took it to the hole and converted a layup plus an additional free throw, which he promptly drained.
And how did he follow that up? By assisting Bagley for a triple and then knocking down a jumper of his own on the Blue Devils' next two offensive trips.
"I was in a little bit of foul trouble and the flow of the game wasn’t going my way," Duval said of his sluggish start. "We were winning, so I was fine, but I had in my mindset to come out and play my game...being more sharp and taking care of the ball and being sure that I didn’t turn the ball over."
Although the fouls ultimately caught up with him, Duval's confidence and resilience took center stage against the Fighting Irish. He finished with not only 12 points, but also four assists—all after the break—that helped Duke go on its game-breaking run.
On a team with low-post scoring threats, an experienced senior leader and a consistent shooting threat that might be as hot as anyone in the league, Duval's role as a facilitator is exactly what the Blue Devils need.
Like most good teams, Duke goes as its point guard goes. So whether it's with points or with passing, the development of a confident Duval will go a very long way.
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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."