INDIANAPOLIS—With two freshmen breaking Duke’s previous debut scoring record in one night, it’s easy to keep all eyes on the Blue Devils’ younger players.
One of the biggest keys to Duke’s statement win against Kentucky didn’t come from the Class of 2022, though, but rather a junior who rarely saw the floor in his first two seasons.
For the Blue Devils, Jack White was there to keep them together. On both sides of the floor, on the glass and on the perimeter, the junior captain was locked in and hungry. Thanks to White’s timely rebounds, pinpoint shooting and leadership, Duke shut down one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation and set the tone for what looks to be an explosive season.
“The untold hero of our team was Jack White,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Jack had 11 rebounds and guarded [Tyler] Herro and played tough, just played really tough, so we’re proud of the win. I shouldn’t say I’m surprised at how well these guys played because I see them, but to play on this stage right away against Kentucky was a little bit surprising.”
Facing a Kentucky squad with twin towers in Reid Travis and E.J. Montgomery, the Blue Devils needed all the help they could get grabbing boards and controlling possession, and White delivered. Of his team-leading and career-high 11 rebounds, six of them came on the offensive glass, helping Duke score on a majority of its possessions.
White also showed off the defensive acumen expected of a three-year veteran, locking down Wildcat perimeter threat Herro with ease.
The Australian came away with two steals and forced Herro into taking tough shots all night. In fact, the Kentucky freshman finished just 1-for-6 from long range and 4-for-11 overall, ensuring Duke’s early lead was never threatened due to hot shooting from the Wildcats.
“It was a lot of fun,” White said of locking down Herro. “He’s a very talented player as are all the players on their team. Chasing him around screens, it’s tiring but it’s a lot of fun. He’s a great player and he’s a great challenge to defend.”
And to complete the package as Duke’s go-to glue guy—and making a strong case for why he would be a suitable fifth starter for the Blue Devils—White’s ability on offense was smooth and versatile. The 6-foot-8 forward ended the night with a career-high nine points and showed up as a deep threat in addition to a finisher at the rim. Along with his three assists and a plus-minus of 35—the highest on the team—White’s ability to keep Duke’s offensive momentum going should not be overlooked.
Having a captain that can provide valuable minutes on both ends of the court will be crucial for the Blue Devils, as a lineup composed primarily of freshmen could run into some mental errors in truly hostile environments. Duke experienced a taste of how loud opposing fans can get at the start of the contest, as a horde of Kentucky fans descended upon Indianapolis, transforming Bankers Life Fieldhouse into Rupp Arena lite.
Although the Blue Devils’ early lead quickly silenced Big Blue Nation, Duke will need a vocal leader on the court to keep everyone’s heads in check for ACC road games.
“They told us that every game we go to is going to be like that,” freshman R.J. Barrett said of the leadership White and fellow captain Javin DeLaurier provided. “We have a big target on us, and every environment we go to is going to be like that, so just to get used to it.”
Duke’s fifth starter alongside its four star freshmen was junior Marques Bolden Tuesday, and though he made a couple of impressive plays in the post, he struggled with foul trouble. The same could be said of DeLaurier’s night—he picked up three fouls in the game’s first 11 minutes and didn’t score a single point.
Although White may not fit the mold of a typical fifth man for a Duke lineup and doesn’t have many minutes under his belt from previous seasons, don’t be surprised if he spends a majority of his time on the floor. The Blue Devil junior is sharp on defense, aggressive on the glass and efficient on the offensive end, making him one of Duke’s most crucial pieces in its dominant performance.
“They’re a very confident group, and they’re very talented, but also our upperclassmen have gotten better, so it’s a nice mix,” Krzyzewski said. “What Jack White did today, that’s what he’s been doing in practice and exhibitions, but there’s nothing like doing it in a game on a big stage.”
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