In the Blue Devils' 101-50 win over Princeton, Duke utilized a strong defensive performance to rebound after a disappointing first 10 minutes.
The Blue Devils did not look like themselves to start the game—not scoring through the first four minutes of the game because of sloppy play and missed opportunities. Barrett scored the first bucket of the game, and after that glimpses of the nation's second-ranked team could be seen. However, the starting five continued to struggle—missing five 3-pointers and going 2-of-10 from the field leading up to the first timeout.
From there, there seemed to be a change in the game—buckets started falling. Duke drove to the basket, and Jack White entered the contest. The junior captain has become known for his effort, intense play, and a strong defense that makes it hard for opponents to get shots off.
White crashed the boards and forced turnovers in the first half when the Blue Devils needed a boost—adding a triple to cut an early deficit to two. White also fed the ball to Barrett for a layup that tied the game 18-18 with under eight minutes to play in the first half. Duke’s captain contributed at both ends of the court in helping take the lead with an assist, steal and three points at the free throw line that put his team up by three.
“For us, we’re trying to be the best defensive team in the country,” said freshman Zion Williamson. “When our defense really steps up, that’s what can lead to our offense, and that’s when we start racking up points.”
From there, the Blue Devils continued to hit a stride, both offensively and defensively. Duke outscored the Tigers 62-24 in the second half. The team had a total of 14 blocks, which is the most by a Blue Devil squad since 2006, and are currently averaging 8.1 blocks a game—best in the nation.
Williamson had two blocks that brought Cameron Indoor to its feet. White and Justin Robinson added two blocks of their own to help out on the defensive end, while Marques Bolden led the team with four blocks.
“It really is just protecting the rim,” Bolden said. “As a big man on the team, that's one of my responsibilities. I really take that to heart, and try my best to protect the rim.”
Not only was Duke swatting balls, but the Blue Devils snagged rebounds and forced turnovers. The team totaled 50 rebounds on the game, with Williamson leading the pack with 10. The freshman ended the game with a double-double on 17 points and 10 boards.
Duke had 12 steals on the night—its fifth straight game with more than 10. The last team to do so won a national championship, which bodes well for a team that has struggled defensively in the last few years despite its offensive talent.
The Blue Devils are all eager and capable of contributing to the game, which will be helpful against harder opponents. Players off the bench, including White and Bolden, are making a huge difference in the game on both ends of the court.
“Every guys that’s coming in is working out how they can be most effective on the defensive end,” White said. “Like Zion [Williamson], he’s all over the court making plays, making steals. Marques [Bolden] and Antonio [Vrankovic] are blocking shots and making an effort to get up in the passing lane…really make it difficult on the team’s offense. Everyone’s working together and doing their bit with their length, athleticism, and everything like that…we’re pretty tough to score against.”
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This teamwork has enabled so many of the Blue Devils to contributing to a strong defensive showing. Eight players had at least one block and seven players contributed to the 12 steals in the contest.
“It’s huge," White said. "If we can get some steals, or deflections or some easy stops then on the offensive end it gets guys going and gets them feeling confident.”