Duke continued its non-conference slate with a dominating, yet below-par, performance against Hartford, in which the Blue Devils won 84-54. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways and stats from the win and looks forward for the Blue Devils: 

Three key takeaways:

1. Duke’s half-court offense needs work

Throughout the first half, Hartford did a good job of getting back on defense in transition and limiting the amount of fast breaks the Blue Devils could take advantage of. Duke only managed to score seven points in transition in the first half, which exposed the team’s offensive weaknesses. The same high-scoring Blue Devils who averaged 94.5 points per game coming into this matchup, only scored 33 first period points, on track for Duke’s lowest scoring game of the season. This was mostly due to the Blue Devils’ inability to score against Hartford’s stingy zone, as triples were not falling and nobody seemed to be in a rhythm for the early parts of the contest.

Luckily for Blue Devil nation, Duke’s athleticism was too much for Hartford to contain for the entire game, and the Blue Devils managed to score 29 points off fast breaks. Head coach Mike Krzyezwski also figured out the best way to score on the Hawks’ zone: get the ball to the paint to freshman Zion Williamson who ended up with 18 points. If Duke wishes to improve its already dominant offense, it will need to become more efficient when better defensive teams can eliminate transition opportunities for the Blue Devils.

2. R.J. Barrett’s winning mentality is essential to Duke’s success 

Duke’s top recruit R.J. Barrett put on a show against Hartford despite his team’s difficulties in the first half. The Mississauga, Ont., native earned his first double-double as a Blue Devil as he dropped 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting with a career-high 15 rebounds. 

Duke relied on his timely scoring to keep the team ahead by a comfortable margin for most of the game. As the secondary ball-handler, Barrett has improved his efficiency in terms of ball security and shot selection, which will anchor the Blue Devils when they need it.

3. Man-on-man defense smothers opponents

A stark difference from last year’s squad, this season’s Blue Devils have been locked in on the defensive side of the ball, which showed in their win against Hartford. Though the Hawks kept the game close with their own defense, they found it difficult to score against Duke, who held them to 54 points and forced 21 turnovers. 

Hartford’s leading scorer, John Carroll, fouled out in the sixth minute of the second half with just six points, which made it especially difficult for the Hawks to find any success in the paint from then-on. Duke did an excellent job of staying in front of their penetrators and closing out on their shooters and forcing them to make high-difficulty shots to stay in the game.

Three key stats:   

1. Five points for Cam Reddish

It seemed as though freshman Cam Reddish escaped his recent shooting slump with a monster 23-point performance against Stetson last Saturday. However, Reddish again looked uncomfortable on the court against Hartford, missing eight of his nine attempted 3-pointers for a measly five points. The Blue Devils need the No. 3 recruit in the nation to return to form soon if they want to continue to spread the floor and run their “small-ball” lineup. Reddish played good defense against the Hawks, coming up with four steals, however, if the Norristown, Pa. native continues to shoot such a high volume of long-range shots, he will have to be smarter about which ones to take, and make them at a higher clip.

2. 58 points in the paint

Duke dominated down low against Hartford, scoring 58 out of its 84 points near the rim. Williamson, Barrett and junior co-captain Javin DeLaurier added to the Blue Devils’ 10-dunk total for the night, and helped out-rebound the Hawks 46-34. Duke’s control of the paint made it nearly impossible for Hartford to go on a run long enough to take the lead and swing momentum its way. This has been Duke’s bread-and-butter thus far, as the team has thrived off the high-flying dunks of Williamson, and the excellent finishes from players like DeLaurier and junior Marques Bolden.

3. Three turnovers by Tre Jones

In just eight games, freshman Tre Jones broke the Duke record for number of games with seven or more assists and no turnovers—against Stetson, Jones finished his third game with that statline, cementing his name in the Blue Devil history books. Against Hartford, Jones’ three turnovers to his six assists stood out, as Jones’ efficiency as Duke’s primary ball-handler has been top-notch throughout the start of the season. Jones still had a positive impact on the game, adding 10 points to go along with two steals in what was otherwise a very good game for the Apple Valley, Minn. product.

Looking forward: 

Another slow start for Duke should ignite the team in its upcoming matchup against Yale, a team that the Blue Devils should beat, but a team more talented than Hartford and Stetson. Look for Krzyezwski to figure out how to maximize Reddish’s potential as Duke’s best shooter and ball-handler. The Blue Devils will face the Bulldogs at home this Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.