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Beyond the arc: Duke's smothering defense returns in rout of Eastern Michigan

<p>R.J. Barrett led the Blue Devils' offensive attack in the first half against Hartford.</p>

R.J. Barrett led the Blue Devils' offensive attack in the first half against Hartford.

After a less-than-stellar performance against Army, Duke hit on all cylinders against Eastern Michigan, running the team out the gym in an 84-46 victory. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways: 

1. It’s not just the freshman 

In the first two wins of the season, freshmen R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish have combined to score more than 70 percent of Duke’s total points, and many have questioned whether the Blue Devils would be as dominant in off nights by the freshmen. Reddish had that off night against Eastern Michigan, where he scored just three points after draining seven threes against Army. But with Reddish cold, several other role players stepped up— junior forwards Javin DeLaurier and Jack White chipped in 10 points apiece, while sophomore guard Alex O’Connell and junior starting center Marques Bolden both scored eight. 

2. Defensive focus back on track 

There’s no doubt the Blue Devils, following a 34-point rout of Kentucky, came out lax in Sunday’s home opener against Army. Sticking around for more than a half, the Black Knights nearly pulled off an upset against a team that looked nothing like it did just five days prior. However, last night was a different story. Duke held Eastern Michigan to just 13 points in the first half, unleashing an absolutely smothering full court press which left the Eagles with virtually zero offensive opportunity. 

3. Getting out into the open court is key 

If it isn’t obvious already, it’s pretty hard to stop Duke in the fast break. Two dribbles, a pass up court, a lob, and in a matter of seconds, the Blue Devils have scored and put momentum on their side. Duke saw troubles against Army Sunday afternoon partly because of its inability to get out into the open court. The Black Knights were able to contain the Blue Devils in a half court set, stagnating their offense. Against Eastern Michigan, though, Duke forced 19 turnovers throughout the match, which turned into 31 points, 29 of which were off fast breaks. 

Three key stats: 

1. 17:35 

With a ruthless full court press, the Blue Devils held the Eagles to single-digit scoring for 17 minutes and 35 seconds. Turnover after turnover plagued Eastern Michigan, turning into fast break points for Duke, which outscored the Eagles in the first half off dunks alone. Duke’s defensive effort was capitalized by a 21-1 run which propelled the Blue Devils to an early lead that they never looked back on. 

2. 20.8 percent from behind the arc 

The Blue Devils shot an abysmal 20.8 percent from the three-point line, hitting just five of 24 attempts. Most of Duke’s production from behind the arc comes from Reddish, who in tonight’s matchup, scored the only three-pointer out of those who started. While O’Connell and White added two threes each and have been shooting well thus far in the season, three-point shooting could be an issue for the Blue Devils in the future, especially if Reddish is unable to find the range. 

3. 83.3 percent from the field for Williamson 

Another game, another efficient shooting performance for Zion Williamson. The Spartanburg, S.C. native shot 10-for-12 from the field tonight, adding on to an impressive start to the season on the offensive end. Williamson is now shooting 82.1 percent from the field on the season, all the while leading the team in rebounding and blocked shots. He’s more than proven himself to be an unstoppable finisher in the paint, but his three-point shot is still questionable, and we’ll see how Williamson develops that aspect of his game as the season progresses. 

Looking forward: 

With tonight’s victory against Eastern Michigan, Duke is now 3-0 on the season. Its next challenge will be the Maui Invitational. While Duke throttled Kentucky in the Champions Classic, it will be interesting to see how it fares against two other potential top-10 matchups, Auburn and Gonzaga, who have more veteran players and more experience as a whole. As the spotlight gets brighter and brighter on Duke’s freshman core, it’s important that the Blue Devils don’t let any of the hype and attention get to them. 


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