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R.J. Barrett, stellar defense drive offense as Duke men's basketball takes down Yale

<p>R.J. Barrett ignited the crowd with a first half slam Saturday.</p>

R.J. Barrett ignited the crowd with a first half slam Saturday.

R.J. Barrett can do it all. From the paint, from the field, on the boards, his ability to defend and score effortlessly unquestionably ranks him as one of the best players in the nation.

And his latest outing just added another line to an already stellar resume for the young Blue Devil.

No. 3 Duke trounced Yale 91-58 Saturday evening at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Although the Blue Devils looked rough around the edges, especially in fouls and converting at the free-throw line, Duke’s defensive dominance and transcendent play from Barrett helped the team maintain its nonconference home-court dominance.

“I always have confidence,” Barrett said. “My teammates and my coaches have confidence in me. No matter what’s going on, they always help me. We help each other, that’s why it’s called the brotherhood.”

Barrett, who has consistently been topping the Blue Devils’ scoring totals, had yet another stellar outing alongside his young teammates. Finishing with 30 points and seven rebounds, the freshman forward was a force of nature in the paint. Barrett has always been a magnet for contact, and the Mississauga, Ontario, native did not disappoint against the Bulldogs—he got to the line 12 times Saturday, hitting nine. 

The former top recruit of the Class of 2018 became the first Blue Devil in history to score over 20 points in his first six games in Cameron. Although some of Barrett’s plays may not attract the same spotlight as teammate Zion Williamson’s dunks, the Canadian Blue Devil took center stage with ease.

“You call that quiet? He does have quiet 20-point games but I don’t think that was quiet,” Williamson said. “He’s very consistent with it.”

All game, Duke (9-1) hounded Yale at every second of the visiting team’s possessions. The Blue Devils’ defensive intensity was spearheaded by Tre Jones, with Jones spending much of his time guarding Yale’s Miye Oni—the Bulldogs’ top scorer for the season. Jones ended the game with three steals and forced Yale (4-3) into difficult passing situations, setting the Bulldogs up for 23 turnovers, of which Duke converted into 24 points. 

Jones’ night was cut short, however, after suffering a lower body injury midway through the second half on a collision at mid-court. The Apple Valley, Minn., native would return to the contest briefly, but immediately was subbed out and taken to the locker room. However, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski was confident that the Blue Devil point guard will be back on the court in time for next week’s matchup against Princeton.

“I feel like in those moments when our offense is not that strong, when our defense is strong it doesn’t matter even if they score, we’re in position to come down the floor and our offense will be fine,” Barrett said. “We need to feed off that defensive energy. When Tre went down, we were still able to pick it up and push the lead further.” 

Even when the Blue Devils’ shots weren’t falling early in the game, Duke’s ability to disrupt its opponents’ best offensive weapons allowed the hosts to stay in front. Despite Yale having a strong post presence in Blake Reynolds and Jordan Bruner, the Blue Devils finished the afternoon with six blocks, with monster rejections from Duke’s Williamson and Jack White keeping the Bulldogs at bay. When forced to attempt from range, Yale didn’t fare much better, making just 13 percent of its 3-point shots.

The Blue Devils had yet another slow start in nonconference play as Yale rocketed out to an early 8-4 lead. However, Duke turned up the intensity on defense to stem the Bulldogs’ play in the post.

But Duke’s first half was far from perfect, as the Blue Devils showed some of the same sloppiness from the Hartford game just a few days earlier.

Williamson and Cam Reddish committed two turnovers a piece and junior captain Javin DeLaurier—who started for the first time this season—committed two head scratching fouls, one of which occurred in the first 13 seconds of play. Although the Blue Devils were quick to draw contact from the Bulldogs—Barrett managed to draw five fouls in the first 20 minutes of play—Duke’s inefficiency at the charity stripe yet again came back to haunt it. The Blue Devils finished 20-of-31 from the free throw line, an issue that Duke has yet to remedy.

“I thought our ball pressure, picking them up early, pushed them out a little bit further from where they normally start there offense, giving us a chance to deny and switch and not get hurt that much by it,” Krzyzewski said. “Our bench came through for us. We started Jav because we wanted to switch one through five, and he done a good job with that and has been doing a good job.”

Duke will continue its nonconference campaign with yet another Ivy League opponent, Princeton, Dec. 18 at home.

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