All eyes are on Duke and its starting freshman stars as they take the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time in the regular season this Sunday afternoon.
After a monstrous performance at the Champions Classic, where the Blue Devils demolished then-No. 2 Kentucky 118-84, No. 4 Duke will look to keep the momentum going against Army when it hosts the Black Knights Sunday at 1 p.m on Veterans Day, the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I. Freshmen Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett will look to build on record-breaking performances to open the season.
“I think we have a good mixture of both [hot shooting and driving],” junior captain Jack White said. “We obviously have a fair share of shooters but we also have guys who can really get to the rack. For a lot of our guys, they’re just basketball players. They can do a lot of things on the floor and play positionless, especially R.J., Zion and Cam [Reddish].”
All three of those freshmen had sensational debuts against Kentucky, with Barrett and Williamson both breaking the previous record for most points by a Blue Devil freshman in their debut game—33 and 28 points, respectively. Reddish added another 22 points while White added 11 rebounds, six of which were offensive to help Duke get second-chance opportunities.
With the Blue Devils' size and sheer muscle, the team has the potential to physically dominate a much smaller Army team. The Black Knights’ tallest player is junior center Matt Wilson at 6-foot-9, while all the guards in the rotation range from 6-foot to 6-foot-4. Duke’s Marques Bolden has two inches on Wilson, who scored the most points—24—in Army’s opener against Marist.
Bolden, who had four rebounds in Tuesday’s contest, should have no problem outrebounding Wilson, and forward Williamson—who added seven boards—could finish the game with a double-double. Duke’s other forwards Barrett and Reddish are also taller and bigger than their Army defenders and can make an impact on the glass.
Another strength for Duke is the team’s flexibility, with players' ability to play different positions. Williamson, Barrett and Reddish can go up for rebounds and play down in the paint because of their size, but can also hit jump shots and 3-pointers. While Tre Jones is the point guard—playing selflessly against the Wildcats with seven assists and no turnovers—any of the four freshmen can act as a point.
“An interesting thing for our team is that we have four guys that can bring the ball up the court in Tre, Cam, Zion and R.J.—and they’re all playmakers,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s an unusual mix and the offense that we’re learning allows them the freedom to do it. We didn’t call many plays—we were in motion most of the game…. It’s just an unusual mix and what we’re doing is unique for them.”
The Blue Devils put concerns about their 3-point shooting to rest against Kentucky, showing their potential to hit long shots and play on the perimeter as well as the paint.
“Coach preaches a lot about stand-still threes because we have a lot of guys that draw attention, so a lot of guys are going to be open,” Bolden said. “So for us to knock down wide-open shots is very important this year.”
Wilson was the only Army player to top 20 points against Marist, while teammates Tommy Funk and Jordan Fox both scored in double figures. The Black Knights struggled to crash the boards offensively—grabbing only six in the opener—which will hurt them against a tough Duke team that has the size and strength to come down with rebounds consistently. Without second-chance scoring opportunities, Army could struggle against this talented Blue Devil squad.
However, Duke will have to be careful to stay out of foul trouble against the Black Knights, as the team totaled 26 fouls against Kentucky—with important players such as Reddish, Bolden, DeLaurier and White finishing the game with four fouls.
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“We play really physical in practice, and that kind of flowed over into the game with all these foul calls,” Bolden said. “We just try to keep our hands off people and talk to the refs to see what we’re doing wrong.”