A ferocious Marques Bolden rejection on Hartford’s first possession seemed to signal the beginning of another overpowering victory for Duke Wednesday night.
However, a lethargic Blue Devil offensive attack allowed the Hawks to linger in the first half, and Duke entered the locker room leading by just nine points, a far cry from what was expected in a game the team entered as a 37.5-point favorite. The second half was not as kind to Hartford, as the Blue Devils outscored the Hawks 51-30 en route to a 84-54 victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Wednesday marked the first time that this season’s Duke squad—led by the mesmerizing freshman quartet of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish—truly looked mortal. Unlike in Duke’s previous contests against lower-tier opponents, such as Eastern Michigan and Stetson, the Blue Devils’ sheer athletic advantage did not allow for the them to easily take care of the Hawks, who entered the night as just the nation’s 215th-best team according to KenPom.com.
“I thought we had some really good shots in the first half, and normally we shoot a better percentage on those than we did. I think we also took some not so good shots," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Our defense never gave our offense energy. It’s not just on Tre, it’s on everybody to pick up the defense. If we’re not hitting [shots], let the defense stir it up.”
No. 3 Duke’s 33-point output in the first half marked its lowest total in a period of the season, surpassing its previous low of 39 points against No. 1 Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational championship game.
Reddish highlighted the Blue Devils’ offensive struggles to open the contest. Despite leading the team in shot attempts, with eight, the freshman forward scored just two points in the first half. Most alarmingly, the Norristown, Pa., native did not connect on any of his five 3-point attempts in the opening period.
Reddish’s poor effort comes on the heels of perhaps his best offensive performance of the season against Stetson, when he put up 23 points on a 53.3 percent clip from the field.
“I think I was just missing. I think it’s pretty simple, honestly. I was just missing shots today. It happens," Reddish said. "I have to figure out more ways to get my buckets. But obviously today I wasn’t hitting it, but I have to get back in the gym. It’s as simple as that.”
The 6-foot-8 forward was not the only Blue Devil to go cold from outside—Duke missed its first 10 shots from behind the 3-point line and made just 19.2 percent of its attempts from deep for the game.
The Blue Devils’ sloppy play continued into the second half, and a Jason Dunne 3-pointer brought Hartford (3-7) to within five points with 18 minutes remaining in the contest. It was not until Williamson connected on a pair of free throws with 12 minutes left that Duke (8-1) regained a double-digit lead which it would not lose for the remainder of the evening.
One of the few bright spots of the game for Duke came from Javin DeLaurier’s energetic performance. The junior captain compiled 10 points on a perfect 5-for-5 to go along with season-highs in both blocks and steals, with five and three apiece.
“He’s playing more like he played in Canada, and he’s getting in a rhythm right now," Krzyzewski said. "When you play against these teams that have five positionless people or that don’t play a low post, it requires that fifth guy to be able to guard the ball, and he can do that.”
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After facing criticism for selfish play against Gonzaga, Barrett is continuing to prove why he was the top recruit in the Class of 2018. The Mississauga, Ontario, native had a team-high 27 points and 15 rebounds, good for the first double-double of his young career.
The Blue Devils may not be so lucky if they come out similarly flat on Saturday night, when they will host a Yale team that has defeated California and Miami thus far.