Duke will travel to Notre Dame after just a day of rest to face off against a struggling conference opponent. The Blue Zone analyzes three key points that must be emphasized to come away with a win. 

Get going early 

As has too often been the case this season, the Blue Devils got out to a terrible first-half start against Georgia Tech, being held to a season-low 27 points and an abysmal 29.6 field goal percentage heading into the break. After scoring the first five points of the game, Duke seemed to get mentally complacent, losing all energy and motivation for the game in perhaps the sloppiest half of the season. It’s precisely this sort of early start weekend game that leaves fans nervous about the Blue Devils losing to a team that has no business competing against them. When the deficit pushed to as much as eight, Duke was finally able to flip the switch with an 11-1 run and never looked back. The team was fortunate to have the Cameron Crazies rallying behind it in the comeback, but such a luxury will not be afforded to them in a hostile away environment.  

Get out in transition 

The biggest key to getting going early is to run out in transition. Last game’s first-half scoring drought was a product of stagnant half-court offense against Georgia Tech’s zone defense, a blueprint borrowed from Syracuse that has given the Blue Devils some headaches. As freshman Tre Jones continues to shake off the rust after returning from his shoulder separation injury, Duke must allow its defense to dictate its offense by creating transition opportunities, relieving some of the pressure off Jones. Creating open shots in transition will be essential in getting freshman Cam Reddish back into form as well. Part of Reddish’s slump is because he’s been forced into taking contested spot-up three pointers in the half-court; his lone made field goal against the Yellow Jackets was a wide-open three in transition. Just seeing the ball go in the hoop on some easier looks will go a long way for a Duke team that shot a dreadful 9.5 percent from three last game.  

Keep up the free throw shooting 

Perhaps the biggest bright spot from the game was free throw shooting. For a team that averages below 70 percent from the charity stripe, the Blue Devils hit an impressive 16-of-19 of their freebies last Saturday, highlighting not only the team’s aggressiveness in driving into the paint but ability to convert on those opportunities as well. In contrast, Georgia Tech was just 2-of-6 from the line, as Duke did well to avoid foul trouble throughout the contest. Both of these are key issues that have plagued the team this season, and it remains to see if last game was part of the trend, rather than an outlier. If the Blue Devils can consistently win the free throw battle, it will make a big difference in their ability to score, particularly when the threes aren’t falling.