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Duke men's basketball back to revolving around Marvin Bagley III

<p>The Blue Devils failed to score more than 33 points in a half for their first two and a half games after Marvin Bagley III returned from a mild knee sprain.</p>

The Blue Devils failed to score more than 33 points in a half for their first two and a half games after Marvin Bagley III returned from a mild knee sprain.

Duke's offense was supposed to pick up where it left off when Marvin Bagley III returned to the floor after a four-game absence due to a mild knee sprain.

But for two and a half games, that was not the case.

The Blue Devils failed to score more than 33 points in five halves of basketball in a row, matching the number of times they did not exceed that mark in a half in their 28 games up to that point. Bagley erased most of those concerns with a second half for the ages in the regular-season finale against North Carolina as Duke exploded for 49 points, but with the season already winding down, the Blue Devils' stars still haven't shown they can consistently play at their best together on offense.

When Bagley was out, senior captain Grayson Allen had his best two-week stretch of the season, averaging 23.8 points and 4.8 assists in four games. Since Bagley has been back, however, Allen has fallen back into a shooting slump, going 6-of-28 from 3-point range in three games and turning the ball over six times to match a career high in each of the Blue Devils' last two contests of the season.

"Really my job is to get the ball into those guys a little bit more, and find Marvin and Wendell [Carter Jr.] on the high post or on the block and get them some shots," Allen said after a win against Syracuse Feb. 24, Bagley's first game back from the injury. "[Bagley's] another guy that you just throw the ball to and he just goes to work, or throw the ball near the rim and he goes and gets it."

It's hard to dispute that Bagley is one of the most transcendent offensive players in the nation when he is on the floor. The 6-foot-11 big man tallied at least 15 points and 15 rebounds in seven games, including three in a span of four days at the PK80 Invitational in November plus the regular-season finale against the Tar Heels Saturday night.

Even with some help from a few timely 3-pointers by Gary Trent Jr. and Allen, Bagley was the primary spark for Duke's comeback from a 13-point second-half deficit on Senior Night. 

"He’s just a dog. He’s going to do whatever he has to do for us to win, and that’s what a lot of people like about him. That’s what I like about him," Carter said. "I feed off his energy. He feeds off my energy. We just fight together."

It was one of the first times since November the Blue Devils looked cohesive together with Trevon Duval back at the point, and Bagley took the bait after the game when asked about a comment by ESPN analyst Dan Dakich that he was "all about himself" during the broadcast of last Monday's loss at Virginia Tech.

"It’s obviously not true. I love being a part of a team, and I honestly think it was a silly statement to even say, to go on for that long about me," Bagley said. "I just think it was dumb, to be honest with you. It was not true at all, and people around me know me as a player and as a person."

But it remains to be seen whether Duke can string that type of play together for an entire tournament, or even a full 40 minutes. 

Bagley is not the only Blue Devil capable of carrying the team in a big win. Allen scored 37 points to lead the team past then-No. 2 Michigan State Nov. 14, and he reassumed that starring role to fuel four straight wins with Bagley out. But when the ACC Player of the Year is on the floor, there is no question about who the focal point of the offense is.

"When he’s in there, we’re obviously going to play off of him because of the talent that he has," Allen said following Duke's win against Georgia Tech Feb. 11, its first game without Bagley. "In a game like this, you get a little bit more down screen actions, more drive and kicks, more opportunities to catch and shoot and just really more opportunities on offense to score."

That opinion is shared by the frontcourt's other freshman phenom, with Carter averaging close to a double-double in his own right.

"I'm not forcing any action. If he’s making his shots, I’m going to continue to give him the ball," Carter said.

The Blue Devil defense has remained wildly successful in a 2-3 zone since Bagley has returned, but his supporting cast has not maintained the offensive numbers they were putting up during his absence. 

Duke has all its eggs in one basket with a heavy reliance on their leading scorer and rebounder entering the postseason, and the rest of the Blue Devils seem perfectly fine with that.


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