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Beyond the arc: Duke's new matchup zone defense stifles Virginia Tech

Allen helped lead a Blue Devils defense that smothered the Hokies' offense.
Allen helped lead a Blue Devils defense that smothered the Hokies' offense.

Without freshman star Marvin Bagley III for a second consecutive contest, it was the Grayson Allen Show as Duke easily dispatched Virginia Tech 74-52 Wednesday night in Durham. The Blue Zone gives three takeaways and stats from the game and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways

1. Everybody do the lineup shuffle

Sunday night in Atlanta, it was Alex O'Connell and Marques Bolden making their first starts of the season as Trevon Duval came off the bench for the first time. And with Bagley still out, Bolden was among Duke's first five against the Hokies, but Duval, not O'Connell, began the game on the floor.

Nonetheless, it was a mashup of players filling in—although all of the Blue Devil starters besides Bolden played at least 31 minutes, five others played at least four minutes despite only getting seven points from that group, all from Javin DeLaurier. O'Connell played just four scoreless minutes. 

2. Super G's

While the world may be paying attention to the Super G races on the slopes in South Korea, there were a pair of Super G's inside Cameron Indoor shooting the basketball. Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. carried the offensive load for Duke, and Allen's performance was arguably his best since putting up 37 points back in November against Michigan State. 

The Blue Devils may lack depth in the shooting department, but if Allen and Trent continue to shoot like they did against Virginia Tech, teams will have little choice but to spread their defense—likely leaving more room for Bagley and Carter to operate inside.

3. In the zone

There's no question about it: Duke's defense has struggled for most of the season. But holding one of the ACC's most explosive offenses to just 52 points is a huge step in the right direction. The Hokies shot just 42.9 percent from the field on the night and in the second half, made only nine field goals. 

Much of this was due to a Blue Devil adjustment, as they shifted to a 2-3 matchup zone that they had yet to show in a game this season. Duke took away the lane, forcing Virginia Tech into eight turnovers after intermission following a two-turnover showing for the Hokies in the first half.

Three key stats

1. Shooting their shots

Without Bagley's dominant offense in the post, the Blue Devils need to find scoring elsewhere. Wednesday, a large portion of it came from Allen and Trent, who combined to shoot 12-of-24 from beyond the arc and 15-of-28 from the field. The duo was consistent all night long, combining for just three turnovers—and Virginia Tech had no answers.

2. We're gonna slow it down just a little bit

Duke has a penchant for being a high-scoring team, but its 74 points was the second-lowest scoring output all season. Yet, the Blue Devils were efficient, averaging 1.21 points per possession with an average possession time of 23 seconds. And with Duke being effective in the half-court zone defense, it might benefit from slowing the game down just a bit going forward.

3. Crash the glass

If it wasn't enough that the Blue Devils were efficient on offense, they had plenty of opportunities to do so. Duke controlled the rebounding margin 36-19, tallying 11 offensive boards which turned into 18 second-chance points. The Hokies aren't necessarily the biggest team, but it was impressive nonetheless. And outside of Carter's 13 rebounds, it was a team effort on the glass. 

If the Blue Devils are getting extra opportunities and holding their opponents to just one shot per possession, that's a recipe for success.

Looking forward

The next one will be arguably Duke's toughest road test of the season, as the Blue Devils venture south to No. 11 Clemson Sunday afternoon. Including a matchup in Greenville, S.C. two years ago while Littlejohn Coliseum underwent renovations, Duke has lost three of its last four on the road against the Tigers. Clemson dropped an overtime battle with Florida State Wednesday night in Tallahassee, and the Tigers may be without Shelton Mitchell, who appeared to suffer a head injury in the final seconds. 

Either way, a win would put the Blue Devils in the driver's seat for the No. 2 seed in next month's ACC tournament with just four more games in the final 13 days of the regular season after Sunday.

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

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." 


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