NEW YORK—Just before the under-16 timeout in Thursday's second half, Trevon Duval watched the ball trickle out of bounds after yet another ugly turnover—not an unfamiliar act for the freshman point guard.
Yet just 10 seconds later, Duval repented for his mistake, stepping in front of a Matt Farrell pass before taking the ball the length of the floor for a thunderous one-handed jam.
No sequence could have been more emblematic of the young floor general's up-and-down season, but once again, it was Duval providing the energy and playmaking Duke needed to find a second surge in the Blue Devils' quarterfinal victory against Notre Dame.
Although he wound up with just six points on the night, Duval's 11 assists—after dishing out six in the second half against North Carolina last weekend—made life easy for the Duke offense as it scored its most points since the Blue Devils' late-January matchup with the Fighting Irish in Durham.
"He’s never been on a stage like this as far as being in a win-or-go-home environment in the ACC tournament, so for us to come out and produce like we did today, and he did today, feels incredible," sophomore Marques Bolden said of Duval. "It makes us look so much better. We don’t really have to do much to put up stats, so to get people the ball and find them as soon as he does is great."
For the first half Thursday night, it was the Grayson Allen show, as the senior captain dropped 17 points in less than 11 minutes. And after intermission, Marvin Bagley III took over, dominating Notre Dame to the tune of 11 made field goals on 12 attempts.
So in the midst of dominant offense from two talented teammates, it could have been easy for Duval's performance to have been somewhat forgotten. Yet time and time again, the rookie—who returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the last two games of the regular season—seemed to make just the right pass.
If there were ever a notion that Duke might be better with its rookie ball handler on the bench, Duval put it to bed for good.
"Being the distributor out there is one of my main focuses, and I’m always trying to find G and Marvin and Gary and Wendell," Duval said. "[Starting the game] kind of gives me a head start to get out there and get ready and get in the flow."
In the opening minutes, it wasn't all coming up roses for the Wilmington, Del., native. Even with seven assists in less than 10 minutes, Duval made some of the silly turnovers that have plagued him for parts of the season. On occasion, he's struggled by dribbling into congested spaces, where he is unable to do anything other than give the ball away.
After four first-half turnovers, though, Duval settled down, sparking the crucial run for the Blue Devils with his defense and passing before finally getting in on the offensive action with a jumper and a floater to give him six points on the night.
Of course, he didn't do it alone. Duval set Allen up for one of his back-to-back-to-back triples in the first half, and the rookie twice dumped it off to Javin DeLaurier for consecutive layups. And on a night when Bagley was nearly unstoppable, Duval played a crucial role in setting up his classmate for three of his second-half buckets and making life that much easier for everyone in white jerseys.
"Anywhere I throw it, [Marvin] can catch it. There was one time—I was just going to shoot a jump shot and I threw it to him, he caught it and scored," Duval said. "At times, he definitely amazes me. I’ve seen him do it in practice and games, but today he played amazing.... When Marvin’s playing like that, it makes the game a lot easier for us."
As Duke has found its footing in the 2-3 zone, the Blue Devils have seen a slight dropoff in their offense. Since transitioning away from man-to-man against Georgia Tech in early February, Duke has topped the 80-point mark just once, scoring 82 against Louisville.
Although the Blue Devil defense did not limit its opponent in the same way it had during the last month, a punishing offensive attack like Duke showed for the first three months of the season was a reminder of how potent this Blue Devil team can be.
If Duval has a big say down the season's final stretch, it will almost certainly be a challenge for opponents to handle.
"With him being able to penetrate and kick the way he does...opponents really have no idea who to guard," Bolden said.
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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."