Following weeks of anticipation, Duke's home game against North Carolina did not go as planned, as the Blue Devils fell to the Tar Heels 88-72 Wednesday evening. The Blue Zone breaks down three key takeaways, three key stats and looks forward for the Duke squad:
Three key takeaways:
1. Blunder from Down Under
Junior captain Jack White seems stuck in a deep hole and all he has is a shovel. After a torrid display from beyond the arc to start the season, he hasn’t hit from deep since Duke’s Jan. 12 victory against Florida State. Defenders have begun to sag off of White, and for good reason. The Australian missed all five of his attempts against North Carolina Wednesday, extending his streak of unsuccessful three-pointers to 25. His presence may be doing more harm than good, as defenders stop prioritizing White and help protect the lane—Duke’s bread and butter.
White’s main virtue this season has been his relentless defense. However, Tar Heel forward Luke Maye certainly convinced him to relent, scoring 30 points on 14-of-24 shooting while pulling down 15 rebounds. White also committed four fouls and three turnovers.
Who can head coach Mike Krzyzewski turn to? Big men Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier similarly folded in the paint, combining for just six rebounds and six points and seven fouls. Without Zion Williamson’s security services, Krzyzewski may have to reluctantly call 7-foot center Antonio Vrankovic’s name to help put an end to the Blue Devils’ defensive miseries in the paint.
2. Broken sole
Hopefully Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, isn’t quaking too forcefully in his sneakers after Zion Williamson’s knee injury—he just might break them.
The best player in college basketball planted his left foot just above the free throw line on the first possession of the game, but the impact was more than his new Nike shoe could handle, splitting it nearly in half and sending Williamson to the locker room with a right knee sprain.
His injury led to Duke’s demise and prompted a tweet from Puma claiming it “wouldn’t have happened in the pumas,” which was immediately removed after backlash.
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Many have encouraged the certain first overall draft pick to sit out the rest of the season to avoid further risk to his health. Given Williamson’s previous statements, however, that appears highly unlikely. Rather than Duke fans, it should be Nike pondering its fate—after the incident, its stock suffered a sudden fall. The shoe giant served up a press release apologizing for the defective shoe, but truly Zion-sized reconciliation efforts may be needed to ensure Zion does not offer his image to another shoe company once he recuperates.
3. Bench colder
Duke’s crusade to prove that depth doesn’t matter looked as shallow as it ever has Wednesday. The Blue Devil bench combined for 3-of-15 shooting, zero assists and 10 personal fouls in 66 minutes. Jordan Goldwire, a hero in Duke’s stunning comeback win against Louisville, played especially embarrassingly, badly missing two shots.
Three key stats:
1. 39 3PA
Duke converted only eight of its 39 long range attempts, good for just 20.5 percent. The 39 attempts were the most in regulation play by the Blue Devils this season. Only in the overtime loss against Syracuse did Duke hoist up more shots from deep. In the absence of Zion Williamson, the painted area seemed off limits for the Blue Devils. A mere 28 of their 72 points came from inside the paint.
2. 20 turnovers
The Blue Devils earned a new season high, but perhaps not in the category they would have preferred. North Carolina turned those turnovers into 19 points. Some of these turnovers came off steals by Blue Devil defenders who immediately lost the ball.
That’s the ratio of days black tenters spent waiting for the North Carolina game to the number of seconds they got to see Zion Williamson play. Naturally, the Cameron Crazies were not too thrilled. At least they got to see former President Barack Obama (accompanied by Duke alumnus and former aide Reggie Love), Spike Lee, Todd Gurley and Ken Griffey, Jr. in the flesh.
The Blue Devils take to the road to Syracuse, N.Y., to avenge their 95-91 overtime loss against the Orange Saturday at 6 p.m. The last time these two met Jan. 14, point guard Tre Jones went down early with an injury, and three-point shooting woes hampered Duke the rest of the way. A rehash of that game may be in the cards, depending on Williamson’s availability. Since their last meeting, the Orange have had a mixed bag. Syracuse was thumped by Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State, but most recently upset No. 18 Louisville 69-49. Expect the Orange to have the mental advantage Saturday, but a Zion-less Duke squad can certainly dominate if Krzyzewski can refocus his players.