After rising to No. 1 in the AP poll, the Blue Devils—led by their four starting freshman—continue to be the hottest college basketball team in the nation.
And all eyes will be on Duke once again as it takes the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium Wednesday, when Blue Devils host Eastern Michigan at 7 p.m. Following the contest, the team will head to Lahaina, Hawaii, for the Maui Invitational next week.
The Eagles will have their hands full guarding a Duke team that’s so offensively talented. Unlike Army, though, Eastern Michigan has the size that may be able to stifle the Blue Devils’ trio of large guards—Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and R.J. Barrett.
The Eagles boast a 6-foot-11 center in Boubacar Toure. Toure is joined by fellow starter James Thompson IV—a 6-foot-10 forward that will help add size to Eastern Michigan’s perimeter defense. Elijah Minnie, who started in the Eagles’ most recent game against Goshen and led the team with 17 points, comes in at 6-foot-9 in the front court as well.
These three big men will have the size that Black Knights did not against a Duke team that can get hot both in the paint and beyond the arc.
“They have some big guys back there, so we’re going to have to adjust,” Barrett said of Eastern Michigan after Sunday’s game. “It’s going to be a completely different game from this one.”
The Blue Devils (2-0) may look to Williamson to lead the team again after his incredible performance against Army. Williamson led the team with 27 points and 16 rebounds. Duke’s star freshman crashed the boards on both ends of the court, but was also able to come up with six offensive rebounds that gave the Blue Devils more second-chance scoring opportunities.
The Spartanburg, S.C., native had a monstrous six blocks on the game—with a sequence of three in one possession—and showed this same intensity and drive when going after loose balls and defending players before the shot. Williamson displayed his all-around skill set, with four assists-—the second-most behind point guard Tre Jones’ seven.
Classmates Reddish and Barrett also dominated offensively, with 25 and 23 points, respectively. However, while Williamson shot 11-of-14, Reddish and Barrett struggled to connect in a more sluggish first half as they combined to shoot 18-of-40 from the field.
Despite a first half when Reddish and Barrett took some time to find a rhythm, the trio of top freshmen still scored 75 of Duke’s points. They will be tough for Eastern Michigan (3-0) to beat, as it’s averaged barely better than 50 percent shooting in the first three games. The Eagles’ shooting beyond the arc is not any better, averaging only 32 percent from three—numbers like these won’t hold up against a team that put up 118 against then-No. 2 Kentucky.
Where the Blue Devils faltered defensively against the Black Knights was in transition. Duke struggled to keep up with Army’s quick pace, and lagged behind on some fast breaks that allowed the Black Knights to keep the game close for far too long. Even Army’s quick inbound of the ball and drive down the court caught the Blue Devils’ bigger men off-guard.
“It was different. They were really fast,” Barrett said of the Black Knights’ fast pace. “As soon as we scored, they were out, so that was just the type of game. The next game against Eastern Michigan will be very different, they’re bigger.”
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The visitors’ size may work in Duke’s favor, as it won’t be as quick as Army. Nonetheless, its height may make it difficult or Williamson to go up and grab rebounds for put-backs on offense. Toure has 33 total rebounds on the season, 24 of which are on defense. The Eagles’ height will surely help them crash the boards on offense also for second-chance opportunities the Black Knights didn’t have.
Jones will have a hard matchup against Eastern Michigan’s redshirt senior point guard Paul Jackson, who leads the team with 56 points and 18 assists. Jackson has experience that Jones does not, and a rhythm with his older, veteran team that the Blue Devils showed they may not have totally developed yet.
The matchup between an Eagle squad made up of three seniors and two juniors and the Duke squad of primarily top-recruited freshmen will be a test for the Blue Devils’ young mentality and experience.
“It was very clear that they played harder than us in the first half,” Williamson said of Army. “I think they wanted it more. We came out there very sloppy and came in at halftime, Coach just said to be great, you’ve got to play hard. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, so I think the difference in the second half, we just played hard, we moved the ball around more instead of trying to go one-on-one, and I think that was our difference-maker.”