When people think about the current state of Duke basketball, the word “veteran” typically does not come to mind.
Yet, with a young Blue Devil team starting four freshmen against a conference foe for the first time, a pair of upperclassmen sparked Duke’s offense after another sloppy start from the field.
The top-ranked Blue Devils took down Clemson 87-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday evening as key buckets from Jack White and a strong performance from Marques Bolden off the bench helped Duke’s offense get on track. Zion Williamson carried the scoring load with 25 points and the Blue Devils ended up cruising to victory in their conference opener after leading by just seven at half.
"That’s a typical terrific ACC game. Physical, hard, really good," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I’m proud of my guys for them coming off this break but also to start off against a really good team, but an old, well-coached team that has experienced a high level of success. Buckets were hard to come by, and we had a couple spurts in the first half to put us up by seven, and then the start of the second half was the turning point of the game."
With Duke (12-1, 1-0 in the ACC) struggling to convert from deep once again out of the gate—the Blue Devils started just 1-of-8 from downtown—Duke turned to one of its captains for a big bucket. White drained a pair of triples late in the first half as the Blue Devils used a 12-2 run to open up a seven-point halftime advantage. The 6-foot-8 forward also came up clutch in Duke’s last contest Dec. 20 against Texas Tech when he hit the team’s first triple late in the second half to put the Blue Devils ahead after an 0-for-13 start to the contest.
White continued his sharpshooting out of the break, converting from deep on the team’s opening possession of the second half to spark a 14-0 run as Duke stretched the lead to 21. The Australian finished the contest matching a career high with 12 points on 4-of-6 tries beyond the arc.
"I trust that my teammates are going to make the right play, they draw so much attention to themselves when they drive the ball to the basket so I just have to be ready for my shot," White said. "I was fortunate some balls came my way, I got some good looks and was trying to knock them down."
Bolden turned in his strongest performance since losing the starting nod to the quicker Javin DeLaurier in December. Bolden matched a season high with 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting while grabbing five boards in the contest.
The DeSoto, Texas, native was not the only big man to find success on the interior as Elijah Thomas led the Tigers (10-4, 0-1) with 14 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting. Thomas’ strong performance could not be maximized, however, due to foul trouble.
With freshmen R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish struggling in the early going, Williamson took control from the opening tip Saturday. Playing against the team many thought was once the favorite to land the top recruit, Williamson totaled 11 points and six rebounds in the first half en route to a double-double with 10 rebounds in the contest.
The freshman ignited the crowd with his latest highlight-reel slam midway through the second half. Williamson stole the ball and did a 360-degree spin while seemingly floating in the air before throwing it down.
"I’ve seen people do things like that more than you, and I’ve coached those guys, so seeing him do that, I’m happy that I’m coaching him," Krzyzewski said. "I’m not amazed at that stuff. He can do that. He can do that, so then do it. We allow him to do it. There’s no ceiling on how high or how many times he can twirl as long as he puts the damn thing in."
Entering the contest averaging an ACC-best 23.8 points per contest, Barrett was a nonfactor from the outset. The Mississauga, Ontario, native did not get on the board through the opening 10 minutes of play and scored just four first-half points, but found his rhythm in the second half and finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Unlike Barrett, Reddish could not recover from a sloppy first half Saturday. After struggling throughout nonconference play, Reddish once again looked lost on the court at times during the ACC opener. The 6-foot-8 forward could not maintain possession of the ball, coughing it up five times in the first half alone, despite playing just eight minutes due to foul trouble.
Reddish was expected to carry Duke’s perimeter shooting this season, but the Norristown, Pa., native has yet to find consistency from range.
"I think he’s just got to be stronger with the ball," Krzyzewski said. "That’s an adjustment for all freshmen in the league is like tonight, we’re playing against men, so he’ll be fine, and we have confidence in him, but he didn’t play well tonight. He’s got to make the adjustment to play in that level of where it’s that physical. He can do that. He can do that."
Following Saturday’s blowout, the Blue Devils will play a true road game for the first time all season, traveling to Winston-Salem, N.C. to take on Wake Forest Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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Digital Strategy Director for Vol. 115, Michael was previously Sports Editor for Vol. 114 and Assistant Blue Zone Editor for Vol. 113. Michael is a senior majoring in Statistical Science and is interested in data analytics and using data to make insights.